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The rectus abdominis muscle is a pair of long flat muscles that run vertically along the length of the stomach. The Linea alba connects the two sides of the rectus abdominis. The linea alba is a fibrous tissue that runs down the middle of the abdomen. Pregnancy can put a lot of strain on these muscles and this increased abdominal pressure can sometimes lead to a separation of the two sides of the rectus abdominis muscle. The rectus abdominis muscle separation is referred to as diastasis recti. This separation will often shrink in the weeks after delivery. A separation of two fingers width or less between the right and left sides of the muscle would not be considered significant.
You may see some pouching or doming of the stomach when using the tummy muscles, for example, when getting up from lying to sitting. However, it may give the appearance of still being a few months pregnant. You midwife or other health professional may noted diastasis recti during your antenatal or postnatal review.
You need to be careful with certain types of exercise. Strenuous abdominal exercises that put strain on the rectus muscle such as sit-ups, crunches or lifting both legs off the ground should be avoided. For example, these types of exercise can increase the size of the diastasis. Heavy lifting can also be problematic and lifting things like shopping bags and older children should be avoided.
Gentle, controlled exercises of the deep muscles of the tummy can be prescribed by your chartered physiotherapist. These are performed in such a way that doesn’t increase the size of your diastasis and doesn’t cause any doming of the abdomen. The exercises you perform are progressed gradually as your control improves.
At Ballsbridge Physiotherapy we advise to attend our Pilates classes. This can help to regain the tone in the abdominal muscles in a controlled way. For most women this is enough to manage the problem.
If the diastasis recti is very problematic there can be ongoing pain or continence issues.
Please contact us at our Dublin 4 clinic for further information.