(Start with What is a Diastasis Recti)
A veil of misleading, overly hyped, or downright bad prescriptions dim decent diastasis recti advice. I once went to a personal trainer whose $125/hr decree was “you must self-massage your midline to break up scar tissue. Then the rectus abdominis will close back together.” Her source material was a massage therapist friend.
This advice was bad. Diastasis recti is not the result of pregnancy induced scar tissue, even if you have had a c-section (which, at that point, I had not).
Still, I diligently massaged—right after walking barefoot on rocks—and doing an odd pantomime exercise against a wall. Don’t ask. This didn’t close the gap. And was not the last piece of bad advice I followed.
What I Wish an Expert Had Told Me
I wish an “expert” had told me the size of your diastasis will change depending on the time of day, how far up you lift your head, what you ate, what exercises you have been doing, whose fingers are measuring, the tilt of your pelvis, and the way the wind is blowing.
This is normal and not a big deal. The size is much less important than function.
However, a large gap probably correlates with decreased function, so I’m not saying you shouldn’t work towards abdominal strength and a smaller gap. Nonetheless, you can restore function even if the gap doesn’t close completely.
My function improved much more quickly than my gap narrowed. Instead of celebrating my successes, I became fixated on why the damned gap was still there. Sigh.
This is what I should have asked myself instead of constantly sticking my fingers into my abdomen.
- Do you fall over when standing on one leg? That’s not normal.
- Do you have trouble stabilizing your hips when doing a one legged bridge? Also, not great.
- Does your abdomen hurt or feel achy throughout the day? It shouldn’t.
- Can you squat, lunge, plank, lift, push, pull, etc. without pain or a bulging belly? If you can’t, slowly work on this. Many women can gain enough function to do all these things, even with a lingering gap.
- Do you pee yourself and do you know about pelvic organ prolapse? Weak pelvic floor muscles are not necessarily related to your DR, but a lot of women obsess about the size of their ab gaps and overlook other postpartum concerns. You can work on DR and pelvic floor problems simultaneously. If you suspect a pelvic floor disorder, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Knowing this can help temper expectations and adjust the type of exercises you do.
Having a gap without any other symptoms isn’t a big deal. It’s called a FUNCTIONAL DIASTASIS RECTI. According to my physical therapist, this is what I have obtained through exercise and other modifications.
If you don’t have function, work on building that. In the process, the gap may narrow, but the narrowing shouldn’t be the primary goal.
Some women have multiple hernias, complete loss of function, or linea albas that can’t generate any tension. Doing all the exercises and breathing patterns in the world won’t help that. Instead, they are candidates for surgery—a painful and invasive surgery—but one these women are lucky to have as an option.
On the other end are women who can fit a finger into a gap, have no functional problems, yet agonize over their diastasis recti. In this case anatomy isn’t the problem. Perception is. Luckily, body image problems can be helped without surgery.
Exercise can help your belly. Truly. But any program that promises to close the gap is lying. It may close. It may not. A 2014 review of the scientific literature concluded “non-specific exercise may or may not help to prevent or reduce DRAM during the ante- and postnatal periods.”
Now that I’ve dashed your hopes of an easy diastasis recti fix, read How to Measure Function.
 The well known Canadian physical therapist Diane Lee has found sometimes the gap actually INCREASES as function INCREASES. This is because the line alba requires loading and loading means pulling.