I’m not sure if it’s because I am pregnant myself and trying to adjust to my ever changing body, but social media seems to be rife with female fitness idols showing off their growing bellies surrounded by hints of what used to be a 6-pack of abs.
Strolling through the comments I was quite shocked to read threads about whether other women noticed an issue with abdominal separation. One woman proudly claimed that she didn’t have any tummy separation, and the fitness model replied saying “I thought you only got it if it was in your genetics”.
Unfortunately, many women aren’t aware that:
- a) separation of their tummy muscles exists,
- b) that it’s not a genetic issue
- c) it is more common than you think
- d) that if not fixed post-baby this can contribute to a number of musculoskeletal issues.
So what is abdominal separation?
The clinical term we use it Rectus Diastasis or Diastasis Recti. That’s a fancy way of saying the Rectus Abdominis (6-pack muscles – and yes we all have a set in there somewhere, just for some people it’s harder to see) has been separated.
This condition can actually occur in any population, including men and children, however, research states that 100% of pregnant women will have a separation of their abdominal wall during pregnancy (at least by 35 weeks). It makes sense right? You’ve got a 6, 7 maybe 8 pound or more baby growing rapidly in your uterus – something has to give to make room for the baby.
So if it’s a natural progression of pregnancy, why do we care about it?
Well, the abdominal wall plays a huge role in the contribution of transferring loads, balance, movement, breathing and continence! When our abdominals are not able to assist with these roles dysfunction such as poor posture, low back and pelvic girdle pain, hernias, respiratory difficulties, incontinence and even prolapse can occur.
During pregnancy, we want to make sure that we’re not putting our bodies at risk of making the diastasis worse.
That’s why you’ll often hear women are advised not to continue with abdominal crunches or curl ups during pregnancy.
After pregnancy, at around 6 – 12 weeks postpartum, it’s recommended that all pregnant women be assessed by a Physiotherapist who can check and measure your abdominal separation. If the separation is greater than 1.5mm we can prescribe safe exercises to help the abdominal wall return to where it should be.
Some women are lucky, once the influx of hormones start to settle, our bodies start returning to pre-baby conditions and we’re returning to exercise, their diastasis resolves. However, in most women, this won’t occur. In fact, at 6 months postpartum 35-39% of women will still have abdominal separation.
What to look out for and how to self-check
If you’re desperate to regain your 6-pack abs and think that crunches are the right thing to do, think again. If you’re not contracting the right muscles or if there is an underlying weakness in your muscles or fascia, this will occur:
If you can fit more than one finger width in this space during a head lift or curl up, then you need to be reviewed by a qualified professional.
So what should you do about it?
Seek professional advice from a qualified Women’s Health Physiotherapist like myself, who can assess and treat your diastasis safely and have you returning to your usual routine without fear of developing secondary complications.