Diastasis Recti: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

by Ella

Diastasis recti is a common condition characterized by the separation of the abdominal muscles, often occurring during pregnancy or as a result of excessive abdominal pressure. While diastasis recti is not usually harmful, it can lead to cosmetic concerns and contribute to core weakness and lower back pain. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of diastasis recti, along with effective strategies for identifying and managing this condition.


Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti, also known as abdominal separation, occurs when the left and right halves of the rectus abdominis muscle separate along the linea alba, the connective tissue that runs down the center of the abdomen. This separation creates a visible bulge or ridge in the midline of the abdomen, often described as a “pooch” or “doming” effect.


While diastasis recti is most commonly associated with pregnancy and postpartum recovery, it can also occur in men, women, and children due to factors such as obesity, weightlifting, abdominal surgery, or chronic coughing. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of diastasis recti is essential for effective management and prevention of complications associated with this condition.


Causes of Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti can occur due to various factors that contribute to increased abdominal pressure and weakening of the connective tissue. Common causes of diastasis recti include:


Pregnancy: The physical changes that occur during pregnancy, including hormonal fluctuations, increased intra-abdominal pressure, and stretching of the abdominal muscles and connective tissue to accommodate the growing fetus, can lead to diastasis recti. The condition is most prevalent during the later stages of pregnancy and postpartum recovery.

Abdominal Muscle Weakness: Weakness or laxity of the abdominal muscles, often due to lack of exercise, poor posture, or previous abdominal surgery, can predispose individuals to diastasis recti. Weak abdominal muscles are less able to support the abdominal organs and withstand intra-abdominal pressure, increasing the risk of muscle separation.

Excessive Abdominal Pressure: Activities that involve repetitive or excessive straining of the abdominal muscles, such as heavy lifting, chronic coughing, or constipation, can contribute to diastasis recti by placing undue stress on the abdominal wall and causing the muscles to separate.

Genetic Predisposition: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to diastasis recti, with certain anatomical variations or connective tissue disorders increasing their susceptibility to abdominal muscle separation.

Multiple Pregnancies: Women who have had multiple pregnancies are at increased risk of developing diastasis recti, as the repeated stretching and expansion of the abdominal muscles during each pregnancy can exacerbate muscle separation and weaken the connective tissue.

Symptoms of Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti is characterized by a visible bulge or ridge in the midline of the abdomen, typically between the belly button and the pubic bone. In addition to the noticeable cosmetic changes, individuals with diastasis recti may experience a range of symptoms, including:

Core Weakness: Diastasis recti can weaken the core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis, leading to impaired stability and support of the spine and pelvis. Core weakness may contribute to poor posture, lower back pain, and difficulty performing everyday activities that require abdominal strength, such as lifting, bending, and twisting.

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction: Diastasis recti can affect the function of the pelvic floor muscles, which play a crucial role in supporting the pelvic organs, controlling bladder and bowel function, and maintaining sexual health. Pelvic floor dysfunction may manifest as urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, or sexual dysfunction in individuals with diastasis recti.

Abdominal Discomfort: Some individuals with diastasis recti may experience discomfort or pain in the abdominal region, particularly during activities that engage the abdominal muscles or increase intra-abdominal pressure, such as coughing, sneezing, or lifting heavy objects. Abdominal discomfort may be exacerbated by certain movements or positions that place strain on the weakened abdominal wall.

Digestive Issues: Diastasis recti can affect gastrointestinal function, leading to symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, constipation, or abdominal distention. These digestive issues may be related to altered intra-abdominal pressure, impaired muscle coordination, or compromised abdominal wall integrity in individuals with diastasis recti.

Cosmetic Concerns: The visible bulge or protrusion caused by diastasis recti can have a significant impact on body image and self-esteem, particularly for individuals who feel

self-conscious or embarrassed about their abdominal appearance. Cosmetic concerns may contribute to psychological distress or negative body image in individuals with diastasis recti.

Diagnosis of Diastasis Recti

Diagnosing diastasis recti typically involves a physical examination conducted by a healthcare professional, such as a physician, physical therapist, or pelvic health specialist. During the examination, the healthcare provider will assess the width and depth of the separation between the abdominal muscles, as well as the integrity of the linea alba and surrounding connective tissue.

Physical Examination: The healthcare provider may perform a series of palpation tests to locate the separation and measure its width in finger widths or centimeters. The separation is typically measured at various points along the midline of the abdomen, from the pubic bone to the bottom of the ribcage, while the individual performs a controlled abdominal contraction.

Visual Inspection: In addition to palpation, the healthcare provider may visually inspect the abdomen while the individual performs specific movements or exercises that engage the abdominal muscles. Visual cues such as a visible bulge or doming effect may indicate the presence of diastasis recti and help guide the diagnosis.

Diagnostic Imaging: In some cases, diagnostic imaging tests such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to assess the severity of diastasis recti and evaluate the integrity of the abdominal muscles and connective tissue. These imaging modalities can provide detailed anatomical information and help guide treatment planning in individuals with complex or severe cases of diastasis recti.

Treatment Options for Diastasis Recti

The management of diastasis recti focuses on strengthening the abdominal muscles, improving core stability, and minimizing intra-abdominal pressure to promote optimal healing and support of the abdominal wall. Treatment options for diastasis recti may include:

Physical Therapy: A structured physical therapy program incorporating targeted exercises, manual techniques, and therapeutic modalities can help strengthen the abdominal muscles, improve muscle coordination, and restore core stability in individuals with diastasis recti. Physical therapists may prescribe specific exercises to activate the deep core muscles, such as pelvic tilts, abdominal bracing, and transverse abdominis activation, while avoiding movements that exacerbate abdominal separation.

Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation: Pelvic floor physical therapy focuses on optimizing the function of the pelvic floor muscles and addressing associated pelvic floor dysfunction in individuals with diastasis recti. Pelvic floor exercises, biofeedback techniques, and manual therapy interventions can help improve pelvic floor strength, coordination, and control, reducing symptoms of urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and other pelvic floor disorders.

Postural Correction: Correcting poor posture and alignment can help alleviate strain on the abdominal muscles and promote optimal spinal alignment and core stability. Individuals with diastasis recti may benefit from ergonomic modifications, postural retraining exercises, and ergonomic aids to support proper posture and reduce excessive intra-abdominal pressure during daily activities.

Bracing and Supportive Garments: Abdominal bracing techniques and supportive garments such as abdominal binders or compression garments can provide external support to the abdominal wall and reduce the severity of diastasis recti symptoms. These supportive devices may be recommended during periods of increased intra-abdominal pressure, such as pregnancy or postpartum recovery, to minimize strain on the weakened abdominal muscles and facilitate healing.

Surgical Intervention: In severe cases of diastasis recti that do not respond to conservative treatment measures, surgical intervention may be considered to repair the separation and restore abdominal wall integrity. Abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck surgery, is a surgical procedure commonly performed to repair diastasis recti and remove excess skin and fat from the abdomen, resulting in a flatter, more toned abdominal contour.

Prevention of Diastasis Recti

While diastasis recti cannot always be prevented, certain strategies may help reduce the risk of developing this condition, particularly during pregnancy and postpartum recovery. Tips for preventing diastasis recti include:

Maintain a Healthy Weight: Avoid excessive weight gain during pregnancy and aim to achieve a healthy pre-pregnancy weight before conceiving. Excess weight gain can place additional stress on the abdominal muscles and increase the risk of diastasis recti.

Practice Safe Lifting Techniques: Use proper body mechanics and lifting techniques to minimize strain on the abdominal muscles and prevent excessive intra-abdominal pressure. Bend at the knees, keep the back straight, and engage the core muscles when lifting heavy objects or performing strenuous activities.

Strengthen the Core Muscles: Incorporate regular exercise, including core-strengthening exercises, into your fitness routine to maintain optimal abdominal muscle strength and function. Focus on exercises that target the deep core muscles, such as pelvic tilts, planks, bridges, and abdominal bracing, to support the abdominal wall and prevent muscle separation.

Practice Good Posture: Maintain proper posture and alignment throughout pregnancy and postpartum recovery to minimize strain on the abdominal muscles and promote spinal stability. Avoid prolonged periods of sitting or standing in poor posture and use ergonomic aids such as supportive chairs or cushions to maintain optimal spinal alignment.

Stay Active During Pregnancy: Engage in regular physical activity and prenatal exercise classes to promote overall fitness, strengthen the core muscles, and support optimal maternal health during pregnancy. Choose low-impact exercises that are safe for pregnancy, such as walking, swimming, prenatal yoga, or Pilates, and avoid high-impact activities or exercises that place excessive strain on the abdominal muscles.

See Also: Repair Postpartum Diastasis Recti After Giving Birth


Diastasis recti is a common condition characterized by the separation of the abdominal muscles, often occurring during pregnancy or as a result of excessive abdominal pressure. While diastasis recti is not usually harmful, it can lead to cosmetic concerns and contribute to core weakness and lower back pain. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of diastasis recti, individuals can take proactive steps to identify and manage this condition effectively. Whether through conservative treatment measures, such as physical therapy and postural correction, or surgical intervention in severe cases, addressing diastasis recti requires a comprehensive approach tailored to each individual’s unique needs and preferences. With proper diagnosis, treatment, and prevention strategies, individuals can minimize the impact of diastasis recti on their health and well-being and achieve a stronger, more functional core for optimal physical function and quality of life.


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