While I was at the gym last week, chatting about my history in the sport, one of my coaches asked “so, how do you fix a diastasis recti?”
My first response was “oh my, there are so many things you can do!” I went into a short list right then and there, but that’s not exactly the most appropriate venue.
Thankfully blog posts and newsletters are!
This post is my attempt to distill what 6 years of practicing restorative exercise, 3 years of focused study, 1 year of clinical practice, and my own body to experiment with has taught me about restoring core function and healing an abdominal gap.
The first thing to address, always, is your alignment. How we hold our bodies day in and day out has a much bigger effect on our soft tissues than any exercise session ever could.
Most people with a diastasis have a habit of rib thrusting. Heck, most people in our culture have a habit of rib thrusting. It’s a convenient way to hide belly fluff, and it’s part of what most people think is “good posture.”
Unfortunately rib thrusting pulls the top of our 6 pack muscles apart. For most people, this is a gentle, functional stretch. But if something is going on to compromise the strength of your connective tissue, this position can create that gap.
So, step 1 for healing a diastasis recti is to drop your ribs.
How we breathe has a profound effect on the status of our core and pelvic floor muscles. Certain habits in our breathing can create too much pressure in our abdomen, which can pull on our connective tissue and contribute to a diastasis.
Want to see how this works?
Place your hand on our belly and breathe in and out a few times. Just observe which parts of you are moving first, which are waiting, and which are still.
Now breathe into your ribcage and observe what happens to your belly.
Next, breathe into your belly, and observe how that feels.
Lastly, breathe like normal, and observe if your rib cage is the prime mover in your breath, or your belly.
What you’ve likely noticed is that as you breathe into your rib cage your belly elongates and draws in. Conversely, when you breathe into your belly you should notice how your belly poofs out and forward.
One of the first tricks to healing a diastasis is to work on initiating the breath by expanding the rib cage. This promotes ideal pressure in the abdomen, and helps bring the sides of the gap back together.
Once that is established, there are a many techniques using the breath to train the core to respond reflexively.
All of the muscles that connect to the torso influence the alignment and mobility of our core. For example, when our upper body is too tense, with our shoulders forward and up by our ears, it limits how our rib cage moves. Tight pecs can pull the ribs forward, which pulls on the rectus muscles, which then contribute to a diastasis.
A tight low back can limit spine mobility (how’s your cat and cow?) which impacts how the core can respond when loaded, which then contributes to a diastasis.
Similarly, if the front of your hips are tight from a lot of sitting, this can impact the alignment of your lower abdomen, possibly making it hard for that part of your body to engage when needed. Which contributes to diastasis recti.
I’m sure you’re catching the theme by now.
All of this is why any attempt to heal a diastasis recti must include exercises that rebalance the tension throughout the body. Our core health is truly a fully body issue.
Heal the connective tissue
Our bones and muscles are constantly adapting to how we use them. How we move literally reshapes our bones. Strength exercises makes our muscles bigger, and wearing a cast will make those same muscles atrophy.
Similarly, our connective tissue is constantly reshaping based on how we use our body. Diastasis recti is, more than anything else, an issue of the connective tissue of the abdomen. If it’s being pulled on too much in the wrong way, the integrity of the tissue fails, and we create a gap.
All of the tips above work towards the goal of bringing the tension on the linea alba back to ideal. Our body wants to heal, and our tissue wants to come back together; we just need to stop pulling it apart. Giving our connective tissue the space and time to knit back together will heal the diastasis recti.
Thankfully there are more things we can do to encourage this.
Depending on the size of your gap, kinesio taping for a diastasis can provide a bit more support to the tissues as they heal. There are a lot of tutorials on youtube, or you can call a practitioner who’s been trained in this (feel free to email me for recommendations).
There are also techniques for working with the connective tissue itself. I’m blessed to have friends and colleagues who are skilled in myofascial release, which works to rebalance our fascia and encourage the body to heal. Again, if you’d like a recommendation for a practitioner, feel free to send me an email.
I love using self-massage to release and reshape connective tissue. Yoga Tune Up’s therapy ball set are a great tool that are designed to work with our fascia, encouraging it to move freely and reorganize. For diastasis recti, this video is a great start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrMYYyQE_6Y
All the techniques I’ve written about so far work together to make core strengthening exercises safe and effective while healing a diastasis.
As long as you’re mindful of alignment and how your breath interacts with your core, I recommend you play around with progressive core stabilizing exercises. Planks, crawling, and squats are all great exercises for strengthening our abdomen in a functional way.
Want to learn more on your own? The books and programs I recommend can be found here https://www.cu-movement.com/shop/