According to a study, nearly 60% of women are prone to experience abdominal muscle separation during pregnancy or postpartum. While this is a shocking number, the fact that most of these women are unaware of this condition adds to the challenges of overcoming it.
You are just in the right place if you are looking for more information. This article includes all the necessary details that you must know about abdominal muscle separation. Let’s get started!
What is abdominal muscle separation?
This is a condition that causes a partial or complete separation of rectus abdominis or “six-pack” muscles. These muscles meet at the midline of your abdomen. It is also known as diastasis recti as per the name of the muscles involved. It is commonly seen in pregnant women as the uterus stretches the abdominal muscles to accommodate the growing foetus.
However, this condition is not only limited to pregnancy. It can affect people with weaker abdominal muscles and can be experienced over varied age groups.
What are the symptoms of diastasis recti?
The common symptoms of diastasis recti include experiencing discomfort due to an apparent bulge or pooch in your stomach. Other symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Lower back pain
- Posture issues
The symptoms of muscle separation are hardly noticeable during the early phases of your pregnancy. They may be prevalent as a bulge or ring developing on your belly during the second and third trimester. This ring or bulge may be positioned above or below your bellybutton and becomes more visible when you use your ab muscles to change position from standing, sitting up, or lying down.
In case of extreme abdominal, back, or pelvic pain, you should see your doctor straight away.
Postpartum diastasis recti symptoms include a prominent bulge or pooch on your belly area which might make you look like you are still pregnant. To self-diagnose your abdominal muscle separation after pregnancy follows these steps:
- Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet touching the floor.
- Raise your shoulders off the floor slightly supporting your head with hands, as if you are about to go for crunches, and look down at your abdomen.
- Move one of your hands above and below your belly button and see if there are any gaps to fit your fingers between your muscles.
- If you can feel a gap of one or two-finger lengths between your muscles, you are likely suffering from a moderate case of diastasis recti.
In most women, this gap starts to narrow naturally after a few weeks postpartum. All the muscles in your body start to regain strength and a healthy hormone level postpartum also amplifies muscle strength. Your doctor or physical therapist might examine you for abdominal muscle separation using a calliper (measuring tool) or an ultrasound.
If you find the gap between your abdominal muscles is greater than two finger lengths, you must get it checked by your doctor or physical therapist.
What causes abdominal muscle separation?
The main cause of abdominal muscle separation is the weakness of muscles. This weakness can be caused by various reasons. The chief amongst these are:
- Excessive inner-abdominal pressure
- Secretion of pregnancy muscles relaxin and estrogen which loosen the muscles
- Pushing during delivery
- Excess weight gain
- Underdeveloped or disconnected abdominal muscles in newborns
How is it treated?
Abdominal muscle separation is usually self-healing, given the right time and conditions to correct. However, you might need expert guidance and professional medical care in extreme cases. Following treatments can help women overcome this condition:
1. Compression garments
Women are generally advised to wear compression garments during pregnancy and postpartum to reduce the effects of muscle separation. These garments help provide gentle co54mpression to your abdomen which is crucial for keeping the muscles together.
Compression garments have also proven to help with other conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth such as urinary incontinence and uterine organ prolapse. Doctors advise wearing these garments during daily routine activities or when hitting the gym.
You can work towards strengthening your core during pregnancy and postpartum. Engage in pregnancy-safe exercises for treating abdominal muscle separation after consulting your doctor or physical therapist or postpartum fitness specialist. You can also perform postpartum exercises at home. It generally involves and deep stomach muscle exercises. Many gyms offer pregnancy exercise packages, you can choose the one that is suggested by your doctor.
Keep in mind:
Following small steps can help you recover faster from abdominal muscle separation.
- Practice good posture.
- Support your lower back with a towel or pillow placed behind you when sitting.
- Bend your knees and support your weight with an arm when getting in or out of bed.
Things to avoid:
While you exercise or heal from diastasis recti, you must abstain from doing the following:
- Lifting heavy weights postpartum
- Exercises or activities that force your ab muscles to bulge out
- Coughing, sneezing, or laughing without supporting your ab muscles
- Lying in positions that strain your ab muscles for too long
Normally, diastasis recti heal a few months after delivery. But if you find your muscles still dilated, it can lead to:
- Damaged trunk stability and mobility
- Pelvic pain
- Damaged posture
- Pelvic floor dysfunction
Can it be prevented?
Pre-pregnancy core strengthening exercises can help prevent diastasis recti up to an extent. Even if it is seen during pregnancy, you may be able to heal properly postpartum. Women with a weak core are at greater risk of suffering from this condition for longer than normal.
Diastasis recti can be a challenging situation in extreme cases. But it can be overcome with appropriate exercise, clothes, and care. Please consult your doctor today if you find yourself facing any of the symptoms.