What is rectus diastasis and how do you close the gap?

Rectus diastasis or diastasis recti is a hot topic right now. I have moms asking me all the time whether they have a diastasis and what it means for them.

First, a brief anatomy lesson:

You have 4 abdominal muscles, all contracting with different lines of pull. The outer most abdominal muscle is called the rectus abdominis. This is the ab muscle that is visible on a person with a six-pack. The word recti or rectus included in the name of this condition is in reference to the rectus abdominis muscle. The inner most abdominal muscle is called the transverse abdominis. The transverse abdominis is positioned like a corset around your belly. In the center of your abdomen, connecting the right and left sides of your muscles is connective tissue called the linea alba.

Next, let’s talk about what rectus diastasis is

Rectus diastasis is a normal separation (that’s right NORMAL) that occurs between the right and left sides of your rectus abdominis. In pregnancy, it is normal for the linea alba to widen and thin causing the muscles to appear separated from each other.

If it is normal, then what is the big deal?

It is normal for this separation to occur, but if it remains too wide or too deep for too long after pregnancy then it can be difficult to use your ab muscles to create the stability needed to lift your children, clean your house, workout, and live your life fully.

Why don’t the muscles come together on their own?

There are numerous reasons why your muscles may remain separated through the postpartum period.

  1. During pregnancy, when your muscles stretched to their maximum and the diastasis developed, your muscles stopped responding well when your brain asked them to contract. Eventually your brain starts to give up. Why tell your abs to contract if they don’t respond anyway. Immediately postpartum you can retrain your muscles to contract by correctly performing abdominal exercises focused on the transverse abdominis muscle (the corset that pulls things together in your abdomen). In order to retrain these muscles, you need to know how to do these exercises correctly.

  2. The connective tissue of the linea alba is continuous with the connective tissue of the parietal peritoneum surrounding your abdominal organs, bunches together along your spine, and then fans out over your small intestine. When it bunches together along the spine it is called the mesenteric root and the fan around the small intestine is the mesentery. This connective tissue can get stuck along the mesenteric root and in the mesentery. When this occurs, no amount of contracting your abs will unstick it. It is like trying to close a hole in pizza dough while someone is holding the crust parts to the edges of the pan. Visceral mobilization can unstick the connective tissue making it easier to bring the muscles together.

  3. The abdominal muscles are attached along the top of the pelvic bones. If these bones are asymmetrical, then the fibers that need to link together are at different heights. Even when you contact your muscles correctly, the two sides cannot come together. You need help to make sure your pelvis is in a neutral and symmetrical alignment so that your muscles can be aligned too.

When I treat a client with diastasis recti, I treat all three aspects. I want to make sure the body is set up to do its best healing.