The staff Doctors of Physical Therapy at EMH specialize in pre and postpartum physical therapy for a healthy pregnancy and a fast recovery after delivery. Preventing Diastasis Recti is one aspect of our expertise.
Please forward to all your pregnant/new mom friends and family!
Diastasis Recti Abdominis (DRA) can occur in up to 66% of pregnant women due to hormones that allow ligaments and joints to relax, the increasing baby size in utero, improper weight lifting (ie heavy food bags, other children, furniture etc), a history of prior C-section or abdominal surgery and repetitive poor mechanics during daily activities and lack of regular exercise.
Men can also develop DRA due to faulty weight lifting mechanics, obesity and chronic medical conditions that result in frequent coughing such as bronchitis.
What is a DRA?
DRA is defined as the separation and thinning of the rectus abdominus muscles (see diagram in green) and stretching of the linea alba (see diagram in blue). The linea alba runs from the xiphoid process (base of sternum) to the symphysis pubis (center of pelvic bone). Both the rectus abdominus muscle and linea alba are the main support for the front of the abdomen, keeping the visceral organs in place and functioning well. They also maintain pelvis stability during walking, lifting, bending and squatting.
What are the symptoms of DRA?
Symptoms may include:
- Noticeable small or large bulge in the center abdomen
- Sharp or burning abdominal pain during bending, lifting, standing and walking
- Lower back pain
- Feeling like the intestines or stomach may fall out
- Poor posture
- Longer term problems of prolonged DRA may include Stress Urinary Incontinence, Fecal Incontinence and Pelvic Organ Prolapse.
How To Measure for a DRA?
The best way to measure is a finger width measurement. Lie on your back, knees bent, head resting on floor/pillow. Place tips of 4 fingers across the body at naval or just above/below the naval per your comfort. Now raise your head and shoulders slightly upward. If your fingers descend inbetween the parallel rectus abdominus muscles on either side of your naval, measure how many fingers move downward. If there is a true split of the linea alba, your finger will fall into a space that feels squishy (your intestines live here!). A positive DRA is one where there more than 2 fingertips (1 inch or 2.5cm width) that lower. We have measured women with 3 to 4 inches ( 8cm) wide and have helped them narrow back to 1 inch (2.5cm) wide.
What to Do if you have a DRA?
Best to first consult a pelvic physical therapist for a tailored postural, stabilization and home exercise program targeting the Tranversus Abdominus (deepest and lowest muscle of our abdomen), the pelvic floor muscles and the multifidi muscles (lower back stabilizers). Here are some tips to help you immediately:
- Avoid positions that may further separate the recti muscles, like doing sit ups, crunches, strong stretches of the abdomen, quick trunk rotation movements
- Stand and sit symmetrically (not to weight bear more on one side vs the other)
- During standing, gently unlock your knees and gently pull your stomach inward while breathing normally
- Self bracing of your stomach with your hands pushing the rectus together when sneezing, coughing or laughing
- Wear a pelvic and abdominal support product to help maintain erect trunk posture and decrease pain until your muscles are aligned and strong