Diastasis recti is a condition in which the rectus abdominis, known as the “six-pack” muscle, separates vertically down the middle of the connective tissue called the linea alba. While many believe it only occurs in women (statistically 100 percent of women who reach full term in pregnancy have diastasis), there are actually a large amount of men who also suffer from diastasis. The majority of these men tend to be in the 45 to 60 age range, although it can occur in anyone at any age.
While diastasis must be diagnosed by a physical therapist or a doctor, a quick way you can check to see if you should consult one of these professionals is to lay on your back, lift your head up and forward off the floor, and gently push your fingers into the line that runs straight up and down above and below your belly button. Be careful not to push hard, as it doesn’t take much pressure to feel, and we don’t want to do any damage.
There are three different areas of the stomach which you can have diastasis—above the belly button, at the belly button, or below the belly button. In order for the separation to be considered diastasis, it must be at least two fingers wide, and/or soft and squishy underneath. Depth matters more than width, as does the firmness of the tissue.
If you do have diastasis recti, this space will feel soft and squishy, and it will be easy for your fingers to sink in. If the tissue is firm and springy and you do not feel a hole, you most likely do not have diastasis, although if you’re unsure, schedule an appointment with a pelvic floor physical therapist or your family doctor to get checked out.
Dr. Sarah Duvall is an expert on the subject and has a fantastic video to help you learn and understand more about diastasis, check it out here.
Doming of the stomach when lying on your back and lifting your head off the floor is a common sign that comes with diastasis. When you lift your head off the floor you will get softness or squishiness on your sides, and the six-pack muscle will bulge up in a dome or pull apart and sink in.
Issues associated with diastasis
Diastasis can be a cause of back pain, hip pain, and a number of other issues that triathletes and cyclists occasionally suffer from. This leads to many frustrating days on the bike and while running, as your back and hip flexors tighten up and your back and abs will be working against one another, instead of together.
Especially when we are trying to perform in a sport, having diastasis makes it very difficult to create or maintain the intra abdominal pressure we need to run, walk or push down on the pedals without either hurting our back, or having other side effects such as hemorrhoids, stress urinary leaking, or pain in other areas of our body that may not necessarily seem connected.
While diastasis may be relatively common, it isn’t normal and can be improved and even fully healed with the help of a skilled specialist. It may seem like something to just accept and push through, but having this disruption to your ability to produce and maintain pressure in the abdomen can have long lasting negative effects on many joints, muscles, and tissues of the body, and can leave you not only knocked out of triathlon, but also in daily pain.
The treatment for diastasis, while different from person to person, often includes teaching yourself how to breathe properly, improving the strength and balance of different muscles around the body, as well as helping to improve your posture habits. Having worked in the field of postpartum corrective exercises for the last two years, I’ve seen a number of individuals from a variety of backgrounds (including a number of men), who were incredibly surprised or even shocked to learn that their issues had stemmed from an undiagnosed diastasis.
If you’re suffering from diastasis, or have noticed any of the signs mentioned above, getting a proper assessment and treatment can help get you out of pain and frustration and back out on the road and in the water doing what you love to do.