Part of our Protect Your Parts Series, learn how to prevent and care for your abdominal muscles…
Abdominal strains and tears are some of the most common muscle injuries, due to the involvement of the abdominal muscles in nearly every movement our bodies make.
The abdominal muscles help with balance, and during physical activity, there are few exercises which do not involve the abdomen in some way.
Those who are extremely physically active are prone to injuring their muscles with overexertion, but those who don’t frequently use their abdominal muscles actually run a greater risk of injuring themselves when they do use them.
However, there are some abdominal injuries and disorders which are not related to activity levels, such as diastastis recti.
Diastasis recti is a condition in which the left and right side of the rectus abdominis muscle separate, forming a ridge down the center of the abdomen.
The rectus abdominis muscle forms the front wall of the belly, and as a result, the separation between the left and right sides of the muscle creates a noticeable dip between the two halves, which typically stretches from the breastbone to the belly button. Largely considered a cosmetic condition, diastasis recti is rarely associated with any other complications or conditions, and typically resolves itself without surgery or treatment.
Diastasis recti is most common in newborn babies. It is actually normal for infants to have the condition, because frequently, their abdominal muscles have not matured enough to close the gap between the two halves.
The ridge between the muscles is most noticeable when the baby sits up, as using the muscles forces them to contract, accentuating the ridge. As the child grows, the two muscle halves grow closer together, and the diastasis recti becomes gradually smaller, until it disappears. Therefore, surgery is seldom needed to repair the gap between the two halves of the rectus abdominis.
The only time it may be necessary is if the infant develops a hernia, which may become trapped in the space between the two muscle halves and prevent them from closing properly.
Carrying multiple babies simultaneously or having repeated pregnancies can increase the risk of developing the condition, due to the repeated stretching of the abdominal muscles.
In the early stages of pregnancy, the only signs of diastasis recti may be extra skin and soft tissue in the front of the abdominal wall. In extreme cases, the top of the uterus may bulge out of the abdominal wall through the gap between the two halves of the rectus abdominis. In these severe cases a doctor may recommend surgery to fix the tear.
Pregnant women can perform certain exercises to reduce the size of the diastasis, and help to repair it after giving birth.
Traditional abdominal or core exercises should be avoided, as overexertion can worsen the condition, or cause other complications.
Any exercises which involve twisting motions, crunches or other common abdominal exercises can be detrimental for an individual with diastasis recti, and must be modified so that they are appropriate for someone with the condition, or avoided altogether.
That being said, some exercises are actually beneficial, and will help to train other muscles to pick up the slack until the diastasis recti heals. Since each case is different, we suggest consulting a doctor or a pre/post natal certified personal trainer to guide with the exercises that would be most beneficial for the individual. In this manner, individuals with the disorder can avoid losing their core strength, and continue to exercise and stay in shape until the diastasis recti heals.