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Abdominal separation: what is it and how to heal it

Mind the gap!

One of the first things that new mums talk about post-birth is the need to immediately get rid of their ‘mum-tum’ and get back to ‘normal’. Well, a) it’s not always that simple and b) it could be more than just a bit of excess weight that they need to deal with. In many cases, getting back to exercise and eating well will get it moving (don’t expect it to be an overnight thing of course), but in some cases it can be something more and something that needs special attention.

Abdominal separation, or Diastasis Recti (DR) as it’s also known, is one of the many things that no-one tells you about when you’re pregnant. It’s a huge topic area and not something I can go into massive detail in a blog, but hopefully this summary is a good starting point.

So what is it and why does it happen?

Diastasis Recti. Post-natal

In essence this is where the rectus abdominis (muscles either side of your belly button) tear away from the connective tissue, separating it from your midline (linea alba). Multiple muscles meet with this midline and when DR occurs, it weakens and compromises the functionality of these muscles, leaving the abdomen unsupported and unstable.

It’s especially common in pregnancy but can happen to anyone, as it’s ultimately the build-up of inter-abdominal pressure. Pregnancy therefore isn’t the cause of a split, but the growing uterus and the shifts in your alignment will exacerbate the problem. Contributing factors are also poor posture, size of your baby, bad breathing technique and if you’ve had multiple pregnancies.

How do I know if I’ve got DR?

There’s a check you can do on yourself, but I’d be happy to advise you if needed. This video helps explain how to do it.

There are varying degrees of separation so do check above, below and on the belly button and as well as the width, see how much tension there is when you put pressure on this midline.

Please be aware that this is a check for post-natal women only and is not to be done in pregnancy.

Why should it concern me?

Often the muscle opening will shrink back to normal post birth, so in many cases you don’t need to be concerned. But if you do find you have a split (generally 2 finger widths or more is classed as a DR) unless you look at working to get those tissues re-connected, you’re going to find it difficult to get rid of that ‘mum-tum’ look. And in addition to this it could result in lower back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction and in more serious cases, hernias. Around 66% of women with a DR issue also have another dysfunction, so it’s certainly something you shouldn’t ignore.

What can I do about it?

There are lots of things to work on prior to jumping back into those HIIT routines, such as:

  • Correcting any faulty breathing mechanisms and encourage diaphragmatic breathing rather than through the belly or chest.

  • Re-aligning the body to check we’re operating in an optimal position

  • Reducing stress and improving sleep as these increase cortisol levels and inhibit healing (easier said than done I realise!)

  • Strengthening the core and engaging the right muscles rather than just ‘sucking in’

  • Eating ‘healing’ foods, ensuring you get the right vitamins to help regenerate tissue

These are all things you can be doing in pregnancy too, so you might as well start them when you can.

As mentioned this is a bit of a whistlestop tour, but in summary, don’t panic. It’s a common issue and can be sorted out given the right attention, so my advice is to check yourself before jumping back into your exercise routine!

If you think/ know you have a separation and would like to work through a programme that helps, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Likewise if you want any further explanation to what I’ve mentioned here, get in touch.

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