Why it’s important to rebuild your abdominal muscles following pregnancy

Whether your baby is six weeks old or six years, you still may be thinking about getting your body back to its pre-baby shape. However, many women suffer from diastasis recti (abdominal separation) following pregnancy which can complicate a full return to exercise and even challenge everyday function. It’s not surprising that abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy and may need some extra help to return to their previous state. Diastasis recti is more common in women who have had a cesarean section birth, a multiple birth pregnancy or those who have had multiple pregnancies.

Left untreated, there can be lingering health concerns

When left untreated, diastasis recti can lead to chronic low back or hip pain, constipation, urinary incontinence and can affect the ability to return to regular exercise routines. But a timely connection with the right physical therapist can change those results.

Physical therapy can improve diastasis recti

At 12 months postpartum, about 30 percent of women still have diastasis recti, according to Tina Gapen, PT, MPT, a pregnancy and pelvic health expert with Ridgeview’s Rehab Department. “Research suggests, if it is still present at eight weeks postpartum, it will be present at one year. As with many injuries, beginning treatment sooner rather than later can improve your outcome and get you back to a better quality of life sooner,” she explains.

Women experiencing abdominal or pelvic pain or weakness postpartum should be evaluated by a physical therapist. During a functional assessment, a physical therapist will assess movement, strength, and pain and help create a road map to assist in meeting goals for post-baby performance and comfort. “I try to reduce fear in women by explaining that the actual measurement of the diastasis recti ‘gap’ is less important than being able to create tension in the linea alba—the soft tissue that connects the left and right abdominal muscles—to support functional activities,” Gapen said.

Successfully managing diastasis recti

Physical therapy, using breathing techniques and core exercises, helps to reduce pain and correct the problem. “We want women to focus on practicing good breathing techniques and avoid breath holding. Breath exhalation activates our deep core muscles, which generates tension through the linea alba,” Gapen said. Engaging in certain exercises too soon may be harmful. A physical therapist can help you choose what exercises are right for you and when the right time is to increase the challenge.

If you are newly postpartum and have concerns about diastasis recti, talk with your provider at your six-week checkup. However, even if your baby is not so much a baby anymore, it is not too late to correct your diastasis recti and regain functionality. Through physical therapy, you can manage this condition successfully, and get back to a full range of function and ability to exercise.

To learn more about physical therapy at Ridgeview’s Rehab Department.


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