Diastasis Recti. Every time I say this term, people look at me as if I am speaking another language or possibly oversharing about my bathroom experience. The looks of concern are quite entertaining.
Mayo Clinic explains the condition like this…
During pregnancy, the growing uterus stretches the muscles in the abdomen. This can cause the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen to separate — a condition called diastasis recti or diastasis recti abdominis. Diastasis recti might cause a bulge in the middle of the abdomen where the two muscles separate.
In every day terms, the condition happens when the organs in your tummy are literally reorganized and the rectus abdominus is separated. The abdominal separation leaves behind a little “pooch”. Besides being a visual discrepancy, it can also lead to a lot of functional problems, because our core strength is crucial to the way we walk, lift, run and LIVE. Furthermore, it is most often accompanied by incontinence or peeing while sneezing, coughing, running, laughing…etc
I have been an athlete and fitness enthusiast for as long as I can remember, and a personal trainer for almost 8 years. But it was not until my 2nd pregnancy, at 29 years old that I was forced to engage with the complexity of my core and pelvic floor structures.
I noticed my abs separating fairly early in my pregnancy. I am a Crossfitter, a group fitness instructor of strength based classes, yoga, pilates, aqua fitness, and even an occasional barre class…so, I am fairly aware of and in tune with my physical being. In my first pregnancy, I got in and out without abdominal separation. Therefore, I was concerned early in my second, when I noticed that my midsection would create a serious dome anytime I was doing core work. You can actually check to see if you have DR, while you are pregnant. This was unfamiliar territory for me.
I started to see a pelvic floor physical therapist at about 25 weeks pregnant, to help me become more aware of my pelvic floor muscles and try to mitigate the damage that was already occurring with my abdominal wall.
There is SO MUCH more to this story that I could share, but my goal for this blog is to simply share with you the habits and tools I have been using to treat my Diastasis Recti and regain pelvic floor strength.
I am 6 months postpartum, as I write this, and I am nowhere near done with my journey. I have open Diastasis, and as is common, it is widest at the belly button. I was at a 4 finger separation after the birth of my boy, and now I am at a 2 finger separation. (Praise God!) I still have to be super intentional about the way I breathe, brace, engage and lift. ( I also have an umbilical hernia that I have decided to manage without surgical repair…more on that another day :))
DR is NOT a quick fix, and being that almost 2/3 of women experience this condition, it is NOT something that many pay enough attention to. I anticipate that I will still be healing this for another year or so. Therefore,
If you are reading this in hopes of healing your own Diastasis Recti, PLEASE PLEASE take a deep breath, and recognize this is NOT a quick fix. This is a journey that will take time, effort, and super consistent attention.
9 Practices to Remedy Diastasis Recti:
1. Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy (Before & after birth, or at ANY POINT.)
I mentioned this above, but it’s importance cannot be overstated. I was someone who believed I could “do it on my own”. (I mean, isn’t there Instagram & Google for that?) But the knowledge and accountability of a professional when it comes to healing is so crucial. My physical therapist specialized in pelvic floor work, and even though its something much of society wants to overlook, her help was invaluable! I had never truly understood how to engage my pelvic floor and do breath work in coordination with a kegel. Now, I feel very aware of how to both relax and engage my rectus abdominus and pelvic floor muscles. Awareness and proper cueing is EVERYTHING when it comes to such a complex structure.
Here are some of the workouts I started with and continue to complete
(Once again, for FULL benefits, please touch base with a professional in this area…I found it extremely helpful to have someone checking on my engagement)
Supine Marches (lay long-wise on foam roller):
Dead Bug – arms overhead – keep knees bent
– All 4s, Shoulders stacked above hands and hips above knees. Inhale relax, exhale engage and extend right arm and left leg (opposite arm to leg) and hold. Release and repeat on the opposite sides.
Primal Plank – leg extension
Mini sit up:
-transverse with exhale, mini sit up; 15 reps 1-2x/day
Side Counter Plank (star position – top leg up) –
PELVIC FLOOR WORK!!! (Kegels done CORRECTLY!)
2. Craniosacral Therapy
To be completely honest, this one took me by surprise, but I have to share it, because the impact was substantial. I have believed in massage therapy for YEARS. I have been receiving monthly massages for almost 8 years now, and I will forever sing the praises of a consistent massage protocol. However, I just recently tried CST for the first time, this past year, and I have been AMAZED.
According to Upledger Institute, the scientist behind CST,
CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a gentle, hands-on approach that releases tensions deep in the body to relieve pain and dysfunction and improve whole-body health and performance.
I always warn people that CST feels like “nothing”.
It is not your typical deep tissue, hurt-so-good sort of massage. Instead, CST, as far as I understand deals with the cerebrospinal fluid and the junctures at which the flow of that fluid may or may not become limited or hindered.
I have found that my body responds really well to this sort of therapy, because it requires super intentional mind/body connection. In particular, during one CST massage, I had not even mentioned my Diastasis Recti, because I NEVER thought that could be helped by massage. The therapist (Terri, from Knead to Relax ) was working on my lower back, when all of a sudden she put one hand over my abdomen. Without any direction, she placed her hand directly over my DR, and I immediately felt a heat from within my body. The heat came in the form of tingles and without coaxing, my mind started to literally visualize my abs ‘zipping’ closed. It was wild. Terri asked if I was feeling anything, and so I explained the sensations and how shocked I was. She agreed that she could also feel my body doing some real ‘healing work’. And I fully believe this therapy session was a break through in my healing process. It was the first time that I REALLY understood the power my brain has over the healing process.
* Now, I would also like to mention here that CST is NOT Reiki. It is not energy work in the sense that it is using “hands off” “hovering” techniques, but rather it is very tangibly working with the human body. There is a lot of science behind its methodology.
With that being said, I DO believe there is power in energy work, but that it can be VERY dangerous to receive energy work from someone who does not rely on the power of Christ and His Holy Spirit, to complete their work. In other words, if Terri was not a professed Christian, who I trust utilizes prayer as a part of her massage ministry, I would not allow her to perform massage therapy, of this sort on me. Of course, I recognize everyone has a different opinion on this, but I stand firm in that I want God’s healing energies, and not energy from any other source.
3. Essential Oils
Of course, you ALREADY know I am obsessed with the way pure essential oils and plants can augment the healing in our bodies. So, these are some of the oils I used topically (diluted with coconut oil) on my stomach to help with healing.
Helichrysum– Good for skin inflammation, and muscle and joint healing.
Deep Blue (Soothing Blend)- Helps heal and soothe muscles.
Frankincense-Reduces lines, scars and wrinkles. The ultimate oil for healing (physically & spiritually). It also enhances oils that are put on before, so I always layer Frankincense on top.
Digest-zen (Digestive Blend)- Helps to augment and heal the digestive system, and prevent bloating. I figure the better my gut health, the easier it will be for my body to clamp down and encourage circulation.
4. Red Light Therapy
Light is extremely healing. And near and far infrared red light has been linked to muscle recovery and skin enhancements. Therefore, I stand in front of my Joov Red light at least 3 times a week for 5-15 minutes. I have noticed a HUGE difference in my stretch marks and scaring, and I believe it has also helped with the internal infrastructure.
5. TAKING IT SLOW
I already talked about seeing a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist, so they can probably give you many of the exercises you should be completing. In addition, you can find a lot of great DR friendly exercises on instagram or youtube…BUT I want to take a moment to talk about what we SHOULD NOT be doing.
Until you have a serious handle on breath work/transverse abdominal engagement and pelvic floor engagement, I would avoid
- Heavy Lifting
- Jumping (unless its on a rebounder)
- Deep abdominal stretching
- Essential anything that creates significant intra abdominal pressure or compresses the abs without ensuring functional abdominal engagement.
- TAKE IT SLOW…start with walking and very easy yoga/pilates/barre work. I cannot over emphasize the benefits to walking this “comeback road” SLOWLY and with thoughtful intention.
Breastfeeding is a way to firm up a mama’s body and encourage healing. It clamps down on bodily organs and helps reorganize our bodies back into their “original” or “near-original” design.
7. Castor Oil Packs
Castor Oil packs are a way to bring extra healing and blood flow to the abdomen. I don’t have any “evidence” as to why this is a good DR healing process, but I know it is a good “full body” process and while I have a castor oil pack on my belly, it makes me more aware of my DR healing process. Therefore, I have included it here. 🙂
How to do a Castor Oil Pack:
- Take an absorbent pad and line the edges with packing tape (we do this to keep the oils from seeping out the side)
- Place castor oil (1-2 TBS depending on how absorbent the pad is) in the center of the pad and then place directly over the stomach, on bare skin.
- Put a towel on top of the pad making sure it covers above and below (I do this for extra protection, to make sure oil doesn’t get out, or onto my clothing/chair/couch etc)
- Place a heating pad over the top of the castor pack.
- Leave on for as long as possible. 🙂
The Wellness Mama also explains how to do Castor Oil packs, if you’d like a little more information on this!
Another area that is more of a full body health practice, but can help with DR. Jumping on a trampoline or bouncing on an exercise ball. This is one of the only exercises that moves our lymph system and also works to tighten and firm our skin.
I recommend as little as 1 minute of bouncing/jumping on the rebounder 1x a day.
Or try to bounce/jump whenever you are watching tv or talking with you family.
Pictured below, underneath the pink/purple blanket, is our rebounder mini trampoline 🙂
I fully believe that every good gift is from our Father in heaven (James 1:17). I also believe God is both the Creator and master healer. He designed women and the birthing process, so there is no one better to communicate with about your gratitude or concerns. Prayer, or setting your mind and energy in accordance with the Holy Spirit, to focus on direction in the healing process, is intensely powerful. I was praying before and during my labor for health, and I have been praying for the healing process ever since. I am not where I want to be, but I am incredibly grateful for the journey and for the healing I have already experienced.
To God be all the glory.