Whether you have one, had one, or just admire them, you probably know what a six-pack is; the toned and chiseled abs found on gym rats everywhere. But did you know that the muscles responsible for them, known as the rectus abdominis muscles, are some of the most important muscles in your body? These long, flat muscles run vertically down each side of your stomach area and hold in your internal organs—so when they’re damaged, a condition known as diastasis recti, it can cause lasting effects
Often during pregnancy or weight gain, the connective tissue that joins each side of the muscle can thin and widen. This connective tissue change and widening between the two sides of the recti muscles is called diastasis recti. Even after giving birth or losing weight, this separation can remain, and the middle can sometimes bulge upwards or sink inwards. Additionally, there may be weakness in the muscles of the abdominal wall that can make your belly protrude. In other words, no amount of sit ups, planks, or pounding the treadmill can help. The good news is most of the time, the distance will reduce over time, but if you find yourself months later, still suffering, there are steps you can take. A physical therapist can be a good first step into healing your diastasis recti, but for severe cases, surgery may be preferred
If you’re done having children, or have reached your goal weight, and you find that you’re still struggling with a weak core after having exhausted your physical therapy options, meeting with a board certified plastic surgeon to discuss your options should be your next step.
Surgery to fix diastasis recti involves stitching the abdominal wall muscles back together along the midline. In some cases, a surgeon may be able to do the procedure laparoscopically (using a tiny camera and instruments inserted through small incisions), but severe diastasis recti require open abdominal surgery through a larger incision.
As with most health-related issues, the best offense is a good defense, so whether you’re planning on getting pregnant or not, it’s a good idea to focus on strengthening your core. A consultation with a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health or an experienced trainer can give you tips on how to keep your abdominal wall strong during and after pregnancy.
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