American Society of Plastic Surgeons
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What is diastasis recti? And how can a tummy tuck help?


diastasis recti and how a tummy tuck can help

Pregnancy and childbirth are all about new experiences and discoveries – even if this isn't your first baby. No matter how well you research and prepare, there will always be something that catches you by surprise. For many women, the condition that surprises them is diastasis recti.

Diastasis recti is a condition where the abdominal muscles separate down the middle of the stomach. While anyone can develop this condition, it is most often seen in women who are or have been pregnant. This is because the separation is one way the body can make room for the growing baby and uterus.

While this sounds like an abnormality, in truth, this separation is considered a normal part of pregnancy. Between the two columns of muscles that make up your abdominals, there is some connective tissue called the linea alba. This tissue is meant to stretch while pregnant, allowing the muscles to pull apart. Then, after birth, it tightens back up, pulling the muscles back together.

However, this condition only becomes concerning if a separation greater than 2.7 centimeters remains six or more weeks after birth. Even at that point, it is possible that the issue will resolve itself naturally or with the help of a little exercise.

The frequency of diastasis recti

Despite not being talked about much, diastasis recti is an incredibly common condition. The majority of mothers will have it to some degree. For roughly half of these women, the condition will resolve on its own within 12 months of delivery.

However, it is believed that many cases of diastasis recti go undiagnosed. It is essential that more mothers become aware of the condition so they can watch for the signs and get the treatment they need.

Health problems associated with diastasis recti

The most noticeable symptom of diastasis recti is a distended stomach. While this is mostly a cosmetic concern, there are real health problems that diastasis recti can cause. Weakened abdominal strength and a lax abdominal wall can both contribute to the following conditions:

  • Indigestion
  • Back pain
  • Stress incontinence
  • Hernia

If you notice any of these problems, you should check to see if you have diastasis recti.

How to test for diastasis recti

The only way to get an official diagnosis is to work with a medical professional. However, you can perform an at-home test to help you determine if you would feel better making an appointment now.

This at-home self-checkup is pretty easy. Just complete the following steps:

  • Lay on your back on a solid surface, such as the floor. Your bed is not firm enough to be a good surface.
  • Bend your knees.
  • Curl your chin towards your chest, engaging your abdominal muscles in a crunch position.
  • Use your fingers to locate the linea alba. Start at your belly button and move your fingers above it, following a vertical line.
  • As you move your fingers, try to press down gently. If you are able to, this could indicate ab separation.
  • Assuming you were able to push your abdomen down, try again and see if you feel tension or if your fingers are easily able to "sink" in.
  • If you find that they sink in easily, check to see how wide the gap is. One finger width is considered normal. More than one indicates there could be an issue.

Treatment for diastasis recti

Multiple treatment options are available for diastasis recti, including at-home exercises, physical therapy and surgery.

Typically, you will attempt exercise and physical therapy first. Even if these do not fully correct the problem, they will help position you to achieve better results from surgery and make the process less invasive. If these fail to deliver the right results, you move on to getting surgery to bring the abdominal muscles back together.

While often thought of as cosmetic, the surgery you would get is a tummy tuck for muscle repair. For a tummy tuck includes muscle repair, the surgeon can still remove excess skin and fat. However, they will also suture the connective tissue between the rectus muscles, pulling them closer together.

When compared to an aesthetic tummy tuck, this involves more complexity, increasing the cost and recovery time. However, if you have health insurance, the procedure should be covered, at least in part, by your provider.

How you choose to approach this surgery is up to you. If you are only interested in muscle repair, your surgeon can stick to that, but they can also offer a more comprehensive tummy tuck or make it part of an entire mommy makeover.

With that said, your first step is diagnosis. Talk to your doctor about your diastasis recti concerns.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

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