Your body goes through a ton of physical changes during pregnancy, which can lead to all kinds of unexpected postpartum conditions. One of which is abdominal separation, also called rectus abdominis diastasis (RAD).
This is a condition that causes weakened and separated stomach muscles and can affect women during and after pregnancy. However, some women may not even realise they have this condition and are dealing with the issue in silence.
You don’t have to go through it alone! If you think you may have RAD, we’re here to help. In this article, we’re going to walk you through what this condition is, its symptoms and signs, and the steps you can take to treat it. Let’s get started.
What Is Abdominal Muscle Separation?
Rectus Abdominis Diastasis, or RAD, is what happens when you experience abdominal muscle separation. This is a super common issue for those going through pregnancy, affecting 1 in 2 pregnant women. However, it can also affect others and can become an issue for people like athletes, or anyone putting a lot of strain on their stomach muscles.
When a person is dealing with RAD during pregnancy, it means their abdominal wall muscles (the rectus muscles) developed a gap between them, and their connective tissue became weaker. This happens as a result of your growing uterus and abdomen during pregnancy putting strain on the muscles, as well as changes to hormones in your body.
This condition is not always painful, but pain can develop if it is left untreated. As a result, many people dealing with separated abdominal muscles do not even realise they have it until pain develops. However, there are indicators you can look for.
Who Is At Risk Of Developing Abdominal Muscle Separation?
As we touched on above, RAD is a common condition that affects 1 in 2 pregnant women. However, there are some factors that will make a person more at risk for developing it.
This condition is most common in pregnant women who have been pregnant before, older pregnant women, obese pregnant women, and women giving birth to multiples. This is because their ab muscles have already experienced being stretched before or are experiencing more strain than usual during pregnancy.
How Do I Know If I Have Abdominal Muscle Separation?
How can you figure out if you have diastasis rectus abdominis? Here’s what to look for:
Abdominal Muscle Separation Symptoms
The most obvious sign of having RAD are changes to your core muscles and abdomen. You can often see a gap appear between your two bands of separated muscle. This will look like a bulge going down the middle of your stomach.
Along with visual cues like seeing a stomach bulge, lower back pain is often an indicator of RAD. This is because as your deep abdominal muscle separates, it puts more strain on other parts of the body to compensate.
In some cases, other symptoms can include constipation, urinary incontinence, frequent bloating, and changes in posture.
Abdominal Muscle Separation Diagnosis
If you want to ensure you are actually suffering from recti abdominis, you can visit a Physiotherapist for a diagnosis.
When checking for signs of RAD, a healthcare professional will measure the separation between both your rectus abdominis muscles. They’ll look at both the width of separation between them, its depth, and the length of it down your abdomen by your belly button. In some cases, they may also perform an ultrasound.
After the examination and diagnosis, treatment can begin.
Treating Abdominal Muscle Separation
The treatment for abdominal muscle separation, in most cases, comes down to a care routine developed by physical therapists. These will include exercises designed to engage ab muscles, core muscles, and your pelvic floor muscles, along with deep muscle exercises.
Other treatments include practicing good posture, wearing supportive garments, and avoiding any heavy lifting or strain on your abdominal muscles.
Diastasis Recti Surgery
In extreme cases, some women may need to go through diastasis recti surgery. This is a procedure similar to tummy tuck surgery, without the focus on fat removal. Here, a surgeon will go in and perform a diastasis recti repair, surgically joining the previously separated muscles.
This type of surgery only happens in extreme cases, where physical therapy and exercise are not enough for the muscles to naturally repair. Always consult with your doctor to see if reconstructive surgery will need to be a part of dealing with your case of Rectus Abdominis Diastasis.
Exercises To Help In Recovery
If you’re worried about developing this condition, there are many forms of exercise you can participate in to make sure it’s never an issue. Regular abdominal exercise can do wonders to prevent this condition and repair your separated rectus abdominis muscle in recovery.
Exercises To Try
You’ll want to engage in forms of exercise that begin to repair and bring your abdominal muscles back together. Focus on exercise where your belly will not need to bulge, and you won’t strain your stomach muscles.
Suggested exercises include pelvic tilts, leg stretches, and bridges. You should also focus on deep breathing, lying on your back, and engaging your diaphragm.
Exercises To Avoid
If you are exercising in recovery, avoid any exercises that put a strain on the middle of your belly, such as planks and sit ups. You do not want to encourage the separated muscles to strain or bulge.
You should also avoid heavy weight lifting, or exercise where you are twisting. If you put too much strain on your recti muscles, you could further separate the muscles, or even develop an abdominal wall hernia.
Taking care of your body post-pregnancy can be hard, but you don’t have to do it alone. If you are experiencing symptoms of RAD, or are looking for help developing a treatment plan, feel free to contact us! We’re happy to help you develop a tailored exercise program that works for you.