The Low Down on Diastasis Recti
Let me start by saying.... YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, mommy tummy or no.
That being said, there can be more to a mommy tummy than meets the eye.
Our bodies are amazing. They are able to stretch, contract, contort, rebound, over and over again.
As woman we are able to expand enough to grow a baby in our womb! This takes a lot of STRETCH of the surrounding tissues.
There is a healthy amount of stretch and rebound that the body can handle. And there is an unhealthy amount of repetitive stretch or frequency of stretch positioning that puts our tissues at risk for injury.
During pregnancy our abdominal tissues go through an incredible amount of stretch. I can't tell you how many times I thought "I can't get any bigger" but I did. I could literally feel my tissues stretching after my daughter had a growth spurt in the womb.
This stretch is very healthy and is meant to happen to provide space for the growing baby.
However if the tissues being stretched were already under unbalanced loads prior to pregnancy, they may be at risk for injury.
This injury of the abdomen or symptom of unbalanced mechanics in our body is commonly known as Diastasis Recti (DRA) or abdominal separation.
I would like to clear a few things up about Diastasis Recti, and I'm going to channel Katy Bowman, a biomechanist who wrote a phenomenal book about DRA which gets to the heart of how I have been working with my patients for years.
DRA is typically the result of years of stress on the connective tissue of the abdominals, called the Linea Alba. Our abdominals expand and contract for gut function, respiratory function, structural support, reproductive health and much more. It is when the abdominals are used over and over again in a posture, or are placed under unbalanced forces frequently that cause the weakest point of the abdomen, being the connective tissue to give.
Then there comes a point when the weakest point just cannot take it any more and stretches or separates past the point of natural.
We all have different widths of linea alba, which can change after pregnancy, but still be normal.
In our modern day society, for many of us these unbalanced forces are sitting in a slouched posture all day at a computer, holding our breath while performing heavy lifting or extreme dynamic exercise, or driving leaned off to one side. These are just examples, there are so many other ways we repeatedly and frequently stress our body.
What we need to take into consideration is DRA is not just an abdominal problem, but a whole body problem. The way we sit can either help or hinder our ability to properly engage our abs. Try it...sit slouched and see where your belly goes. Then sit upright so you feel you are sitting on top of the two bones in your bum and see what your belly does. Is it easier to contract them in one of these positions versus the other?
Our trunks are pressure chambers and when we are honoring the natural curves of our spine and neutral positioning of our joints, these chambers are stacked, all the parts insides are in place and the container (bones, muscles, skin, etc) are not distorted.
When we don't honor neutral these chambers are not stacked, the parts insides are displaced and the container has to distort. It is when we repeatedly dishonor neutral that this becomes a problem.
Imagine a woven shirt, if you repeatedly stretch it, the fibers will eventually start to break down and the seams, being the weakest point will tear.
This is what happens with the linea alba. However, for most woman the tissue doesn't actually tear, it just gets really thin and weak.
99% of expectant women have a DRA, based on the measurable definition of abdominal separation. However, it doesn't become a problem unless the abs are pulled past an unnatural state of stretch during pregnancy and then is not addressed post birth.
Again, DRA is a symptom of unbalanced forces in the body putting strain on the connective tissue of the abs that results in back pain, pelvic pain, abdominal pain, gut & digestive issues, and pelvic floor dysfunction.
66% of women tested with DRA had at least 1 support-related pelvic floor dysfunction diagnosis.
The good news is there is a way to help correct this problem. And it doesn't mean just closing the gap or having a flat tummy.
Here's a little inside into my life...I had a DRA after my pregnancy. I was very fit before and during pregnancy. I was doing prenatal yoga & Pilates and I ran until I was 8 months pregnant. But I have past injuries and compensations that my body found challenging to withstand the forces placed on it.
I have worked hard to create a functioning abdominal wall again, and I still have what some would consider a separation.
BUT, my abdominal muscles all work properly, there is proper fascial tensioning in my linea alba, I can close the gap, I do not have any pelvic floor dysfunction, gut issues or pain issues.
What does this mean? By addressing the issues of unbalanced forces in my body, through bad posture, tight muscles or fascia, repetitive movement patterns and the like I put less strain on my belly.
You can too! The first step is recognizing what unbalanced forces you are creating in your body then taking the time to recalibrate how your body responds by creating healthy movement patterns!