Diastasis Recti/Abdominal Separation


What is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis recti is a condition in which the abdominal muscles split apart. This split occurs vertically, essentially splitting your 6-pack into two 3–packs, with one on either side of your belly button. The condition itself is not painful, but some of its side effects, like back pain, can be.

Diastasis recti allows the intestines to push forward, often causing a bulge and a soft, jelly-like feel around the belly button. People with diastasis recti often notice a bulge in their stomach that gets worse when they bear down or flex their abdominal muscles. The condition can also cause difficulty lifting heavy objects, urinary incontinence, lower back pain, poor posture, and constipation.

Who Can Experience Diastasis Recti and What Causes It?

Anyone can experience diastasis recti. We tend to associate the condition with pregnant women or those who have had children. Indeed, postpartum women do frequently experience the condition. But anyone, including men, can suffer from it.

In pregnant women, diastasis recti occurs when the expanding uterus pushes on the abdominal wall, stretching it further than it can comfortably go. Multiple pregnancies, big babies, and vaginal deliveries all increase the risk. Birthing multiples, like twins or triplets, also increases the risk, which is higher for petite women overall.

In men and women who haven’t experienced pregnancy, diastasis recti is caused by placing a lot of pressure on the abdomen. Typically exercise is the cause of this stress. Crunches and other abdominal exercises can put too much pressure on the abdominal wall, especially when done improperly. The same is true of lifting too much weight or doing so incorrectly. The injury doesn’t have to happen in a gym, however. Lifting a heavy package or a child can do it.

RELATED: Best Exercises for Diastasis Recti

Sometimes obesity causes the problem. Excess fat can push out and weaken the abdominal muscles over time, causing them to split apart. A buildup of fluid in the abdomen can do the same and may be caused by problems such as cancer or cirrhosis of the liver.

Is Diastasis Recti Common?

Diastasis recti is common, but it’s impossible to say exactly how common. The condition affects about 60% of postpartum women. In many the condition resolves on its own with time, but about 33% of mothers still struggle with diastasis recti 12 months after delivery.

It’s much harder to get a handle on the numbers for men and women without children because they’re not studied as frequently. The condition is common, but objective evidence of how common it is outside of pregnancy is difficult to come by.

Can You Get Diastasis Recti from Being Obese or Overweight?

Yes, obesity can cause diastasis recti. Excess fat can push the abdominal wall out and cause separation of the muscles. Very rapid weight gain further increases the risk since the body doesn’t have time to adjust. Eventually, however, the constant pressure of even a slow weight gain can cause diastasis recti in both men and women.

Can You Get Diastasis Recti from a C-Section?

A C-section can cause diastasis recti, but so can a vaginal birth. The abdominal muscles are not cut during a C-section, but they are pulled apart to gain access to the uterus. Diastasis recti may result but can often heal itself in time.

A vaginal delivery can also cause diastasis recti, however, as can the pregnancy itself. Sometimes the size of the growing baby is enough to push the abdominal muscles apart. The strain and pushing involved in a vaginal delivery can do the same. There is no reason to avoid a C-section for fear of diastasis recti which may occur during any type of delivery.

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