woman doing core work

Why Healing Diastasis Recti is about More than Core

If you’ve done much reading around the postpartum world, you’ll notice talk about healing Diastasis Recti. But what is Diastasis Recti and why should you care?

In simple terms, Diastasis Recti occurs when the tissue that helps maintain the tension between the two sides of the abdominals, called the linea alba, gets overstretched. When this happens, some women report low back pain, incontinence, prolapse, or discomfort with the way their belly looks. Women sometimes tell me they are tired of being asked if they’re pregnant when they’re not…. (Side note, why do people do this? 🤷‍♀️🤦‍♀️)

A Brief Anatomy Lesson

Healing a Diastasis Recti starts with understanding what parts of the body are involved and the pressure system within the trunk.

The stretched tissue, the linea alba, connects to our abdominals. Four layers deep (outside in – rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, transverse abdominis), the ab muscles directly connect into both sides of the linea alba. The linea alba, serving as a connection point along the midline of the body, also connects to our rib cage via the base of our sternum and our pelvis via the pubic bone.

During pregnancy, these abdominal tissues stretch. Research has shown that up to 100% of women will experience DRA as our bodies make room for our growing baby. In some ways, this is good news. We can then say that this stretch is a normal part of pregnancy.

The question becomes why do some women have more trouble with healing a Diastasis Recti than others?

I would be lying if I told you I had all the answers. But I would like to posit a couple of theories and explain why healing a Diastasis Recti is about more than “closing the gap.”

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Every time I hear someone say, “breathe in, breath out” I can’t help thinking of Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid. I know, I know, he says, “wash on, wash off,” but for some reason, this brain of mine correlates the two.

But I digress.

As I said, the linea alba connects not just to your abdominals, but also your ribs. During pregnancy, our ribs and sternum flare out and our diaphragm rises as we, again, make room for the growing baby. After our baby is born, sometimes we need to help these structures make their way back closer to the position they were pre-pregnancy. Staying widened continues to put more pressure through the midline of the abdomen.

One of the ways we can do this is by connecting our core and pelvic floor to our breath. You can check out this post for more info on how to perform The Connection Breath, and get started on this today. It’s the first exercise I recommend to all of my clients postpartum.

Aside from bringing the ribs back down, the way we breathe also makes a difference in healing Diastasis RectiWhen we breathe, the way we are aligned through our trunks changes the pressure system in our body.

black and white outlines of pelvic tilts

For instance, we might get more pressure on the front of our bodies (our abs) if our backs are more arched. This may happen with pregnancy as we have more weight in front of us. And just like with our ribs flaring, increased lumbar lordosis could create more pressure through our abdominals.

Or let’s say you tend to slouch. Now you have less space to move through the abdominals. If they can’t take up their normal amount of pressure, it has to go somewhere else. Perhaps the pelvic floor? And maybe this leads to issues with prolapse or incontinence.

All this to say, learning how to breath, with good alignment, and pressure spread throughout the trunk is a factor in healing Diastasis Recti.

The Cold Shoulder

Aside from learning how to breathe in good alignment with pressures well-balanced, improving your shoulder mobility may also help. Why? If your shoulders are stiff, we tend to get our extra motion from the rib cage.

Try it for yourself – sit or stand so that the back of your ribs are against a surface. Now without allowing your back ribs to move away from the surface, raise your arm as high as you can.

Retest allowing your rib cage to move at will and see which way you’re able to lift higher. Most of us move our ribs to get some extra motion when we reach overhead.

When we use the movement of the rib cage to allow ourselves to reach up into cabinets or high shelves, we inadvertently put more strain on the front of the body. Hence, more strain and pressure on these important tissues when healing Diastasis Recti.

So how do we increase shoulder mobility? Number one – mindfulness of keeping our ribs down and aligned with our pelvis. I know this is a challenge. We’ve got lots of other things on our minds! But we can also start with some exercise to help train awareness. One of my favorite exercises to help with this is arm arcs.

How to do arm arcs:
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, your chin gently tucked so that you’re lengthening the back of the neck, your lower ribs gently pulled down, and your pelvis in neutral (you should have a small arch in the low of your back – like you could slide a pencil under it but not your whole hand)
  2. Inhale and expand all the way around the rib cage
  3. Exhale and lift one arm up and overhead toward the ground while maintaining neutral spine <— this is the key to increasing shoulder mobility
  4. Inhale as you bring your arm back down.
  5. Repeat on the other side

Helpful hints and reminders:

  • You may want to practice with one arm to start and keep the other hand on your lower ribs to monitor movement.
  • If you have a Diastasis Recti, be mindful of whether you’re getting doming between your abs. If so, you’re probably pulling down too hard. Only move your arm as far as you can without doming.
  • If you are pregnant, make sure you move off your back if you start to feel lightheaded or dizzy. You can also try this in sitting or standing against a wall
  • You can increase the challenge of this exercise by lifting both arms at the same time

There’s More to Healing Diastasis Recti

While there are more topics to cover with healing Diastasis Recti, I want to leave you with this – there is hope! For some women surgical intervention makes sense. But for many more women exercise accompanied by breathing and alignment can make the difference.

Want more info on alignment and breathing? —> check out my ebook on the ABC’s (alignment, breathing, core)

Do you have more questions about healing diastasis recti? Let me know below

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