Can Exercise Help With Diastasis Recti?
If you’ve ever been pregnant, the phrase “diastasis recti” or “recti divarication” is probably already in your vocabulary. The term refers to a common condition where the large abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy.
According to Pregnancy, Birth & Baby, an Australian-government-funded organisation, some women experience weakening and separating abdominal muscles during and after their pregnancies. This typically occurs in the second half of pregnancy when the growing uterus causes the stomach muscles to separate from one another.
Cleveland Clinic estimates diastasis recti impacts 60% of pregnant women, and while it usually resolves within eight weeks of delivery, 40% of these women will still have the condition at six months postpartum.
While any pregnant woman might experience this condition, it tends to occur more commonly in women who have had more than one child, are over the age of 35, are pregnant with multiples, deliver vaginally or in smaller women expecting a larger-than-average baby.
If you have had abdominal separation, you will need to plan your return to fitness with your healthcare provider accordingly.
How do you know if you have diastasis recti?
As with all medical conditions, your healthcare provider is best placed to discuss your symptoms and is the only one who can provide you with an official diagnosis. According to Pregnancy, Birth & Baby, your GP, midwife or physiotherapist can check how big the separation is during an ultrasound or by measuring it using their fingers or a measuring tape.
While diastasis recti occurs during pregnancy, Cleveland Clinic highlights that a lot of women won’t realise they have the condition until after they give birth. This is because the abdomen stretches naturally during pregnancy.
Cleveland Clinic points to the following symptoms experienced during the postpartum period as signs you might have diastasis recti:
- A visible bulge just above or below the belly button
- A jelly-like feeling around the belly button
- A coning or doing sensation when you contract your abdominal muscles
- A weak feeling in the abdominal muscles
- Difficulty with everyday tasks, lifting objects and/or walking
- Pain during sex
- Pain in the lower back, pelvis or hips
- Poor posture
- Urine leaking when you sneeze or cough
Does diastasis recti go away?
For most women, diastasis recti will resolve itself post-birth. However, one in three women still report problems up to 12 months after giving birth. Pregnancy, Birth & Baby suggests modifying certain daily activities (such as how you get out of bed), gentle exercises, supportive braces or compression underwear as ways to help with diastasis recti. While surgery is an option, Cleveland Clinic say that it is rarely performed and it is likely your healthcare provider will suggest physical therapy or at-home exercises before recommending a surgical approach.
What kind of exercises help with diastasis recti?
Exercise before, during and after pregnancy may help alleviate the symptoms of diastasis recti.
Pregnancy, Birth & Baby highlights that strengthening your core muscles prior to pregnancy might help prevent your abdominal muscles from separating while also performing gentle movements that safely engage the abdominal muscles when you return to fitness.
Cleveland Clinic cautions against certain movements that push your abdominals outwards such as sit-ups or crunches, planks and push-ups (unless you are modifying these movements), yoga poses such as downward dog and boat pose, Pilates movements such as double leg lifts and scissors or any other exercises that may cause your abs to bulge, cone or dome.
The NHS says that regular pelvic floor and deep stomach muscle exercises can help to reduce the size of the separation. They also acknowledge that it’s important to be aware of your posture and stand tall.
While a 2019 randomised controlled trial pointed to the efficacy of deep core stability exercises in treating diastasis recti and improving the quality of life of postpartum women with the condition, further research here is needed.
Another study from 2021 had similar findings, acknowledging that postpartum exercise interventions are understudied, even though their research added to existing literature that suggests the effectiveness of exercise on the condition. The lack of research in this area has also been highlighted by the National Library of Medicine in the United States, which emphasises that there is currently no consensus on which abdominal exercises are recommended to narrow the separation.
If the abdominal separation is still obvious eight weeks after giving birth, the NHS stresses the importance of discussing this with your healthcare provider, due to the increased risk of ongoing back problems. Your healthcare provider may refer you to a physiotherapist who will be able to prescribe specific exercises.
Sweat's post-pregnancy programs
If you’ve been given the okay to start exercising again after giving birth, there are two options available in the Sweat app. Post-Pregnancy with Kayla Itsines and PWR Post-Pregnancy with Kelsey Wells are both suitable for women who have experienced diastasis recti, and you should discuss whether these structured programs are right for you with your healthcare provider. Remember to take a gradual, progressive approach to rebuilding your strength and fitness to ensure you return to exercise safely after pregnancy.
This article is for informational purposes only. Any instruction, information, or guidance contained in this article is not a substitute for medical advice, consultation, and/or medical treatment from your doctor or healthcare provider. Do not delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of any instruction, information or guidance contained in this article.
You are responsible for your own safety and are participating in this fitness activity at your own risk. Start slowly and do not exceed the exercise recommended by your physician or health care provider. If you experience faintness, dizziness, pain, discomfort, bleeding, or shortness of breath at any time while exercising, stop immediately and seek medical advice.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.