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Narrowing the Inter-Rectus Distance of the Transverse Abdominus

Today's guest post comes to us from Kelly Feddema, PT, PRPC. Kelly practices pelvic floor physical therapy in the Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, MN, and she became a Certified Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner in February of 2014. To learn more about diastasis recti abdominis, consider attending Care of the Postpartum Patient!

It can be a struggle to treat patients with diastasis recti if they don't seek treatment early after giving birth. Many therapists may often find themselves thinking “if I only could have started them sooner.” Why does this condition often get missed at postpartum examinations? I personally deal with symptoms from an undiagnosed diastasis, and I'm a therapist! I didn’t really pay attention to it until I started down the road of becoming a pelvic floor therapist.

Diastasis recti can be a difficult diagnosis to treat, as the patient may come to us when they are already one year postpartum, and not everyone agrees on the what are the best treatments. To crunch or not crunch? To use a brace or not to brace? It would be great if we had a similar healthcare system to France, where the norm is to have 10-20 postpartum rehabilitation visits with women after child birth. While therapy is available in the United States, women must ask for it.

There are many programs out there from the more well-known Tupler Technique and Mutu programs to others that come up when searching for exercise ideas. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has a basic program to work on isolating the transverse abdominis (TrA) muscle and then progressing movements in the legs while keeping the TrA activated.

Some research by Paul Hodges and Diane Lee from 2016 in the Journal of Orthopedic Sports Physical Therapy indicates that narrowing the inter-rectus distance with a TrA contraction might improve force transfer between the sides of the abdominals and in turn, improve abdominal mechanics.

Another study in Physiotherapy from December of 2014 by AG Pascoal, et.al. utilized ultrasound to determine the effect of isometric contraction of the abdominal muscles on inter-rectus distance in postpartum women. They found that the while the inter-rectus distance in postpartum women was understandably higher than controls, it significantly lowered during an isometric contraction of the abdominal muscles.

One year later, a study in the same journal by MF Sancho, et.al. had similar findings when studying women who had a vaginal delivery and women who had Cesarean deliveries. They found that abdominal crunch exercises were successful in reducing inter-rectus distance, but drawing-in exercises were not.

As with a lot of research, the findings lead to more questions and ideas to explore. I think it is safe to say that starting safe re-education of the muscles as early as possible is going to provide women the most benefit in reducing diastasis recti, and that will help to prevent further issues in the abdominal and pelvic region.

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