What Is Diastasis Recti, Anyway?
If you’re a new mom or a professional athlete (or sometimes both!), you’ve most likely heard of a challenging problem called diastasis recti. Often, patients with children have stretched their abdominal wall so far that they’ve created a permanent gap between the rectus abdominus “six pack” muscles. So, as the uterus pushes against the abdominal wall and the connective tissue becomes looser, the midline tissue of the stomach becomes thinner, no longer providing support for the torso and the internal organs.
While minimal amounts of midline widening happen in all pregnancies, some pregnant women have midlines that remain wider than two finger widths. In approximately 30% of pregnant women, this happens, and this is the frustrating experience of diastasis recti. ““When you have diastasis recti, you’re not fully supported in your middle, so your core is not able to function as effectively as it should,” said Chicago-based therapist Sarah Haag. In running, this may translate to symptoms such as hip or low back pain, leaking urine, or a decline in performance. “If you have a diastasis, you may notice notice deficits in your running until you are able to generate tension through your core again,” Haag said.
This year, Olympic hopeful and professional runner Stephanie Bruce made the news when she posted pictures of her own diastasis recti in graphic detail, displaying a photo on Instagram where she stuck three fingers between her abdominal walls. In an article for Runner’s World, she writes, “If you look at my stomach, you’ll see a lot of loose skin. Stretch marks. Dimples. Brown spots. A bit of a pouch where all that loose skin is hanging out over my waistband. It’s a hot mess. Given that I am otherwise thin, and I like to run in shorts and a sports bra you’re going to notice my stomach flapping.” However, Bruce’s spotlight on the issue has helped publicize diastasis recti for many women who didn’t know what it was or what to do about it. Today, there are more resources to help women with diastasis recti than ever before.
Strengthening The Abdomen To Improve Appearance
So far, Bruce has elected not to receive any type of procedure or surgery to improve the appearance of her stomach, noting that it functions just fine. Today, she runs 60-70 miles a week, and tells Runner’s World that “I was just trying to be real and raise a topic that doesn’t get talked about a lot: the postpartum body.” However, she does regularly exercise and commit to working on strengthening her core and abdomen in order to improve both appearance and functionality.
Patients must be careful to pay attention to the type of exercise they do, however. Without consulting with a physical therapist or other medical professional, strengthening the abdomen can actually worsen the belly bulge and separation. For example, any movement that places strain on the midline or causes the belly to bulge outward, like planks, will not work: “When this action is repeated forcefully, and frequently, the degree of separation can actually worsen,” says Kevin Brenner, M.D., F.A.C.S., a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon based in Beverly Hills. Heavy lifting and other traditional ab-work that’s designed to create a six-pack or a toned appearance can also be incredibly detrimental.
On the other hand, abdominal compressions, pelvic tilts, and bridges with the belly scooping can help bring the abdominal walls back together. The goal is to push the oblique muscles toward the center of the belly, constantly focusing on bringing those muscles back together. Bridge pose is one of the most commonly recommended poses for diastasis patients: Imagine that you’re holding a grapefruit between your knees, and hold the posture for up to sixty seconds. This movement will allow the muscles to remain taut and firm, gradually strengthening as postpartum time increases.
What about surgery?
Although strengthening can help improve functionality, it’s very common for a patient to require tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) surgery to help repair the muscles and improve aesthetic appearance. In an abdominoplasty, as Milwaukee tummy tuck surgeon the website of Dr. Mark Bosbous explains, “After accessing the abdominal wall, Dr. Bosbous will repair the lax abdominal muscles, tightening them with sutures to provide a “flattening” effect. Next, excess fat may be removed directly or through the use of liposuction, helping to reduce the thickness of the upper abdomen and allowing for your new abdominal framework to be seen after the skin has been advanced and re-draped.” The abdominoplasty will tighten and recontour the abdomen, remove excess skin, and remove excess fat, resulting in a sleek appearance.
While there are no statistics on how many tummy tucks are undergone for diastasis repair specifically, the procedure can be a wonderful gift for women who are self-conscious about their stomach, even after working on strength and exercises (like Bruce) to return their stomach to the way it used to be. In addition, the surgery can be as easy as an outpatient procedure if desired, simply requiring time for healing after the procedure.
To find out if a tummy tuck is the right option for you or if you have additional questions about diastasis recti, leave them in the comments section below, anytime! We’d be happy to answer them or refer you to a surgeon who can help.