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Home > Diastasis Rectus Abdominis:  A Common Condition in Pregnant Women

Diastasis Rectus Abdominis:  A Common Condition in Pregnant Women


Jamie Swale, DPT
 If you have ever heard of someone having a “6-pack”, the person being referenced has strong and defined Rectus Abdominis muscles.  While we don’t associate “6-packs” with the abdomen of pregnant women, this muscle is very important. As a woman’s baby grows in-utero and the abdominal wall stretches, the rectus abdominis muscle can stretch and separate, as does the thick band of connective tissue between the right and left sides, called the linea alba.  This separation is known as Diastasis rectus abdominis (or diastasis recti or DRA).  Physical therapy is an option to help minimize the risk and symptoms associated with this condition.
Usually diastasis recti develops in the second or third trimester of pregnancy, or even after pregnancy. It can cause pain and dysfunction when it occurs.
Symptoms include:

  • Pain in the lower back or pelvis
  • Poor postural control and increased risk of back injury
  • Weakness
  • Bowel or urinary problems
  • Visible separation of the muscle which can also be manually felt
  • Flabby ab muscles
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Scarring from a C-section may exacerbate these symptoms

Risk Factors include:

  • Multiple births
  • More advanced age when pregnant
  • Carrying twins or multiples (multi-parity)
  • Having weak core muscles

Upon seeing a Physical Therapist, you will be given a thorough physical examination. Areas of assessment would include medical history, activity and lifestyle summary, posture, hip and core strength, range of motion, location of pain and tenderness, and body mechanics during functional movements.
Together, you will set goals to achieve regarding your posture, improving your core strength, and learning exercises that will help you to reduce your pain and manage your symptoms effectively. Your Physical Therapist will help you learn how to exercise without exacerbating your symptoms or pain.  Regular sit-ups or crunches should be avoided, while many women mistakenly believe that doing them is the only route to a flat, post-baby abdomen, it can actually make this condition worse.  You will learn what exercises are safe as you recover from diastasis recti.
Other areas of treatment may include bracing or taping techniques to provide external support, training of proper body mechanics, postural strengthening, stretches for areas of tightness, and education on maintenance and further management in order to remain functional and continue on with your normal daily activities and interests.
Although risk factors cannot be changed, physical therapy can be beneficial as soon as these symptoms are noticed to help minimize the impairments associated with DRA as the baby continues to grow.

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