The rectus abdominis muscles are found on the abdomen and are commonly referred to as the abs or “6 pack” muscles. There is a small band of tissue, called the linea alba, that connects the right and left side of the rectus abdominis muscles and is located at the midline of the body.
Diastasis recti is a condition in which there is a weakening of the linea alba allowing for an abnormally large separation between the rectus abdominis muscles. This widening of the linea alba allows for bulging of the abdomen and an appearance of still appearing pregnant after delivery.
Diastasis recti is usually diagnosed through a physical examination with your doctor.
- You may lay on the exam table with the abdomen exposed and slowly perform a sit up, causing the rectus abdominis muscles to contract. With diastasis recti, there would be a bulge at the location of the linea alba, between the two rectus muscles.
- Measurements may also be taken at different levels of the linea alba during contraction and rest of the rectus muscles to determine the distance and if this exceeds the normal width of the linea alba.
If the diagnosis is not apparent on exam, but there is a question about diastasis recti, an ultrasound can be performed to better visualize the linea alba and any separation of this tissue.
Pregnancy can increase the risk for the development of diastasis recti, but this does not mean all women who are pregnant will develop diastasis recti. The linea alba and rectus muscles are stretched during pregnancy due to weight gain and increase in abdominal girth. This increase causes the pressure of the abdomen to increase and the further stretching of the linea alba, potentially leading to diastasis recti. During the postpartum periods,the linea alba can either decrease, stay the same, or increase. If there continues to be separation between 3-6 months postpartum, the diastasis recti will likely not close without treatment.
The treatment of diastasis recti is aimed at strengthening the abdominal muscles and offloading pressure of the abdominal muscles.
- A postpartum exercise program, as well as the Tupler method, which is use of an abdominal binder.
- Bellefit abdominal binders work to improve diastasis recti by taking the pressure away from the abdominal muscles, in turn, allowing for the tissue to rest and heal.
- The abdominal binders are typically worn for 18 weeks with an exercise program started after 6 weeks.
- The exercise program is aimed at strengthening the abdominal muscles.
The majority of women that are diagnosed with diastasis recti that use an abdominal binder in conjunction with abdominal strengthening exercises, can typically heal their diastasis recti. For the small subset of women that are unable to heal with conservative therapy, there are several surgical options available.