What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti is a condition where the linea alba, the tissue that runs vertically down the midline of the abdomen, becomes stretched and weakened, causing a gap or separation between the left and right rectus abdominis muscles. These are the muscles that form the coveted “six-pack” in the abdominal region.
Causes of Abdominal Separation
Diastasis recti can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- Pregnancy: One of the most common causes of abdominal separation is pregnancy. As the baby grows, the abdominal muscles stretch to accommodate the expanding uterus.
- Obesity: Excess body weight can put additional stress on the abdominal muscles, leading to separation over time.
- Incorrect Lifting Techniques: Lifting heavy objects using improper techniques can strain the abdominal muscles and contribute to diastasis recti.
- Multiple Pregnancies: Women who have had multiple pregnancies are at a higher risk, as the abdominal muscles may not fully recover between pregnancies.
- Age: Muscle tone naturally decreases with age, making older individuals more susceptible to abdominal separation.
- Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to diastasis recti.
Assessing Abdominal Separation
Early detection and assessment of abdominal separation are crucial for effective management and treatment. Here are various methods for assessing diastasis recti:
1. Visual Inspection
Visual inspection involves looking at the appearance of the abdominal area. While this method can give a general idea of abdominal separation, it is not the most accurate or reliable assessment on its own.
- Stand in front of a mirror and lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Lift your head and shoulders off the ground, engaging your abdominal muscles.
- Look at the midline of your abdomen, focusing on the area between your belly button and pubic bone.
- If you notice a visible gap or bulging in this area, it may indicate abdominal separation.
2. Physical Examination by a Healthcare Professional
A healthcare provider, such as a physical therapist or obstetrician, can perform a physical examination to assess the severity of diastasis recti. This assessment often involves the following steps:
- The patient lies on their back with knees bent.
- The healthcare provider palpates the abdominal area, feeling for the separation and assessing its width and depth.
- The patient may be asked to perform certain movements while the healthcare provider monitors the abdominal muscles.
3. Measurement with Fingers
Another method involves measuring the width of the separation using the fingers. This is typically done as follows:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Place two or three fingers (usually the index and middle fingers) horizontally across the midline of your abdomen, just above the belly button.
- Gently press down while lifting your head and shoulders off the ground.
- Measure the gap between the muscles in finger widths.
A gap of two finger widths or more is often considered indicative of diastasis recti, though the severity can vary.
4. Ultrasound Imaging
In some cases, healthcare professionals may use ultrasound imaging to assess abdominal separation. This provides a more precise measurement of the gap between the rectus abdominis muscles.
- A specialized ultrasound technician or healthcare provider applies gel to the abdominal area and uses an ultrasound probe to visualize the muscles and measure the separation.
Diagnosing Abdominal Separation
Once abdominal separation is assessed, a healthcare provider can make an official diagnosis. This diagnosis involves determining the severity of diastasis recti and considering any underlying causes or contributing factors.
Grading Diastasis Recti
Abdominal separation is often graded based on the width of the gap between the rectus abdominis muscles. The grading system may vary among healthcare providers, but a common classification is as follows:
- Grade 1: Separation less than two finger widths.
- Grade 2: Separation between two and three finger widths.
- Grade 3: Separation greater than three finger widths.
The severity of diastasis recti helps guide the treatment approach, with more significant separations typically requiring more extensive intervention.