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Abdominal Separation - How Exercise Plays Vital Role

Abdominal Separation, officially known as Diastasis Recti of the abdominus (DRA) occurs when the left and right side of the Rectus Abdominis muscle, (6-pack muscles), separates from the connective tissue that holds it together. This causes the left and right side of this muscle to pull apart, forming a greater than normal space between the two. This separation can be measured in centimetres but is more commonly measured in “fingers,” depending on how many fingers wide the separation is. Anything greater than 2.5 centimetres at the umbilicus is considered problematic.

Both females and males can experience Diastasis Recti, however, it is more prevalent in women. DRA can even occur in new-borns and postmenopausal women, so it is not solely pregnancy related.

Diastasis Recti is commonly caused by three things:

  1. Pregnancy
  2. Significant weight gain around the abdominal region
  3. Excessive increases in intra-abdominal pressure

Pregnancy and Diastasis Recti

During pregnancy there are a lot of physiological and anatomical changes that occur as the female body adapts to the increasing size of the fetus. As pregnancy progresses the layers of the abdominal muscles and the connective tissue to which they attach begin to stretch to accommodate for the growing fetus. There is also an increase in the hormone “relaxin” which causes a relaxation effect on tendons and connective tissue. It is the coupling of these changes which leads to the separation of the rectus abdominis muscle. DRA normally manifests in the second trimester and affects almost all pregnant women as 66% to 100% experience DRA in the third trimester.

Males and Diastasis Recti

Diastasis Recti is present in two-thirds of males. This condition can be seen in males who carry an excessive amount of adipose tissue (fat tissue) around their abdomen. This is referred to as abdominal obesity. Similarly, to females, the increased diameter of the stomach causes the left and right side of rectus abdominis muscle to separate from the connective tissue that holds it together.

Individuals with abdominal obesity who work in labour intensive roles are particularly susceptible to separation as their core will not appropriately activate during manual tasks where heavy lifting is involved.

 Males with an extensive history of weightlifting who utilise breath-holding techniques can too experience separation. This occurs due to excessive intra-abdominal pressure exerting force outwards upon the rectus abdominis muscle causing it to separate.

Just because these causes commonly relate to males, it does not exclude the female population.

How does Diastasis of the Rectus Abdominis Muscle Impact the Body?

Diastasis of the rectus abdominis muscle will affect the integrity of your abdominal muscles and impact your ability to appropriately use them when required. It can also lead to a range of other conditions and complaints commonly including:

  • Incontinence
  • Pelvic organ prolapse
  • Lower back & pelvic pain
  • Hernias
  • Breathing difficulties

Why is Specialised Exercise with an Exercise Physiologist Important?

It is important you see an Exercise Physiologist to ensure that you are doing the correct exercises. Although exercise in general is beneficial, you can easily do more harm than good if you are doing exercises that place too much internal pressure on your abdominals or if you aren’t correctly engaging your core. It is also important to be aware that the true core is composed of four different muscle groups which all work together in synergy every time your core activates.

What approach will we take as Exercise Physiologists?

As Exercise Physiologists we will develop your understanding of what muscles compose the “true core” and how these muscles also play a role in pelvic floor health. We will progressively introduce traditional abdominal exercises as well as diaphragmatic breathwork, pelvic floor contractions and isometric abdominal exercises. It is important that we take this holistic approach and include all elements that impact your separation.

Our aim is to progress you to a level where you’re able to activate your abdominal muscles during activities of daily living so that you’re not only developing your strength in our sessions but in everyday life! Once you know the tricks of the trade, you will even find yourself subconsciously engaging your core when it is necessary.

Depending on the level of separation and how long it has been since the separation occurred, we can work towards reducing the distance between your rectus abdominis. If not, we will focus on managing your separation and reducing the risks of consequential conditions.

How can Pilates Be of Benefit?

  • Increase mind-body connection to build awareness of your core
  • Enhance your understanding of how your abdominal muscles should activate
  • Pelvic floor contractions are easily coupled with Pilates style exercises
  • Increase your core strength to limit risk of consequential conditions
  • Long-term management of your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles
  • Improve your mind-breath connection & diaphragmatic breathing

It is our duty of care to any females or males who come into our studio with abdominal separation that it is appropriately addressed so that we can create an individualised management plan for you.