I’ve made mention a few times about my stomach problems since giving birth. I have diastasis recti (split abs) and was really having trouble getting good, solid information about it. I didn’t know what to do because I’d hear conflicting information and I didn’t want to make the problem worse. Thankfully, through the magic of Twitter, I found Kim Vopni. Not only is this an area of expertise for her, but she has also graciously offered her words of wisdom and advise for anyone who may have this problem (note, it’s not just pregnancy that can cause this!!). Please read Kim’s wonderful Q&A:
What is Diastasis Recti (DR)?
DR is the separation of the outermost abdominal muscles called the Rectus Abdominis. These are 2 strap-like muscles that run vertically on our abdomen. It is not actually the muscles that separate but the connective tissue that holds them together widening and becoming stretched and weak.
DR is caused by forward forceful pressure on the connective tissue. Examples of what can cause DR are: Pregnancy, Beer Belly, Crunches, Getting up and down using the Jackknife position. Sometimes the separation will close on its own but in my experience it is not often. If not closed, it will be permanent and symptoms will worsen or new ones will appear.
I diagnosed my mother at age 65. With changing her abdominal training, her separations is closing and she no longer has pain in her back. Closed is typically 1/2 to 1 finger width and you can close it at any age. The sooner you start, the better. The larger the separation, the longer it will take to close and the weaker the connective tissue, the longer it will take to close.
How is DR diagnosed and what are the Symptoms?
DR is diagnosed with a ‘finger test’. A trained professional will evaluate the integrity of the connective tissue along with the width of the separation. The width is determined by using fingers to measure. In my experience, the most common size of separation is 3.5-5 finger widths.
Symptoms are typically a poochy tummy that won’t go away, back pain, incontinence, pelvic pain and a tummy that looks like a little pup tent when you get up from a lying position.
Who is most likely to get DR?
Pregnant women are the most common but it can happen in men, babies and even bodybuilders. Women who have had more than 1 child are more likely to have DR and if they had it in their first pregnancy and didn’t close it, then they will most likely show quicker the second time around. I work mostly with women but I have seen it in 2 men and 1 baby as well.
What can be done to prevent it or lessen its severity?
Stop doing crunches, get up and down correctly (go to a side lying position and then roll over onto your back and vice versa), incorporating exercises for the transverse abdominis, abdominal splinting or compression during pregnancy and post partum (if using a splint or compression garment, deep core exercise must be done as well to prevent creating weakness in the core).
DO’s and DON’TS
DO Kegels, deep core work incorporating the transversus abdominis, diaphragmatic breathing.
DON’T do crunches of any kind, pilates moves that prevent you from holding in your transverse, back bends and updog in yoga, getting up and down using the jackknife movement
What are some Treatment Options?
Seek the help of a physiotherapist trained in deep core (pelvic floor and diastasis) to assess and monitor your progress. Find a personal trainer who knows about diastasis who will prescribe the right exercises. Do lying and seated transverse abdominis exercises (tummy vacuums are a good example). Splint your abdomen to help heal the connective tissue and approximate the muscles.
Kim Vopni is a wife and mother of 2 boys. She holds a BA in Psychology from the University of Western Ontario and a Post Graduate Diploma in Health and Fitness from Simon Fraser Univeristy. She began her fitness career in 1996 leading classes and clients in both one on one and group sessions. In 2004 after the birth of her first son, he company EPI-NO Canada was also born and has evolved into a women’s wellness company with a special emphasis on prenatal and postpartum moms.
Kim is a Can-Fit-Pro Certified Personal Trainer, a Certified Pre/Post Natal Fitness Consultant and is qualified in the Tupler Technique for Diastasis Recti rehab. She is also trained as a postpartum Doula which has many clients now referring to her as The Fitness Doula.