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Rectus Diastasis

Rectus Diastasis: Why Sit-Ups Won’t Cut It

You’re a woman who delivered months or years ago, but you still have a little “pooch” on your belly. Or you’re a man who’s been going to the gym religiously, but you can’t get rid of the beer belly. If this sounds familiar, you could have a condition called rectus diastasis. And you could be doing all the wrong things, including exercises, to fix it. You may even be making matters worse. Read on to find out all about rectus diastasis and why sit-ups won’t cut it if you’ve got this condition.

What is Rectus Diastasis?

The rectus abdominis muscles extend from the rib cage to the pubic bone in front of the abdomen. You use these muscles to bend your body forwards and sideways. You’ve probably heard of the term “six-pack.” A six-pack is nothing more than well-defined rectus abdominis muscles visible beneath the skin in people who’ve been working out.

Rectus diastasis is a condition in which there is a partial or complete separation of the rectus abdominis muscles in the midline. It’s very common (occurs in up to 6 out of 10 women) during pregnancy and after childbirth when the growing baby stretches and thins connecting fascia between the abdominal muscles. But that doesn’t mean men (or women who have never been pregnant) cannot have rectus diastasis. The condition can affect anyone, leaving a noticeable and unsightly paunch in the mid-abdomen that persists despite losing weight.

Causes of Rectus Diastasis

Pregnancy and childbirth are well-known causes of diastasis recti. The expanding uterus and changing hormone levels during pregnancy cause the connective tissues to become thinner – it’s the body’s way of accommodating the growing baby. However, once the pregnancy is completed and the woman has delivered, the tissues are unable to return to the previous position because they’ve lost their elasticity. Think of it like an overstretched rubber band.

In men, rectus diastasis can be the result of obesity, which places pressure on the abdominal muscles. It can also occur after rapid and frequent changes in weight. Sometimes, men who work out in the gym injure their rectus abdominis muscles during weightlifting or certain abdominal exercises. Also, certain medical conditions that cause fluid collection and swelling in the abdomen can lead to stretching and separation of the belly muscles. Last but not least, advancing age and genetics play a role in the development of diastasis recti.

Complications of Rectus Diastasis

Your doctor can check for diastasis recti by physical exam or by using calipers to measure the separation between your rectus abdominis muscles. A gap of more than two fingerbreadths is considered abnormal. Diastasis recti can be confirmed by an imaging test such as ultrasound, which will demonstrate the gap in the muscles.

You would think the worst thing about a rectus diastasis is its appearance, the fact that your clothes don’t fit well, or the unwanted “mummy tummy” that makes you look pregnant long after you’ve delivered. But not only does the look of rectus diastasis upset some people, but it can also lead to several medical problems, including chronic lower back pain, bloating, constipation, urinary incontinence (leakage), and poor posture. That’s why it’s important to have the condition diagnosed and treated.

Can Exercise Help Rectus Diastasis?

Have you been eating healthy and exercising regularly but feel defeated because you can’t get rid of your bulging belly? If you have rectus diastasis, working out in the gym can leave you feeling frustrated. No amount of exercising and strength training will help. That’s because, as noted above, rectus diastasis is a bulging tummy caused by a gap in the rectus abdominis muscles. Many common abdominal exercises, such as crunches, sit-ups, and planks, can actually pull the belly muscles further apart, making matters worse and leaving you feeling disheartened.

There’s scientific evidence that points to exercise being ineffective for rectus diastasis. A randomized controlled trial showed that a weekly, supervised exercise program for rectus diastasis with a focus on strength training plus daily exercise at home produced no significant difference compared to a control group that didn’t exercise. The researchers concluded that exercise could not reduce the prevalence of or improve rectus diastasis.

What’s an Effective Treatment for Rectus Diastasis?

If you still look pregnant more than a year after giving birth, or you can’t get rid of your bulging belly even after losing significant weight, or you have chronic lower back pain and other symptoms along with a protruding belly, talk to your plastic surgeon about a tummy tuck procedure.

A tummy tuck is a body contouring procedure that improves the shape of your abdomen by tightening and reshaping the tissues in the area. The result is a flatter midsection, a narrower waist, and a toned abdomen. Men and women who are good candidates for a tummy tuck include people who are at an ideal or near-ideal body weight and are in great shape except for a persistent protruding belly. A tummy tuck is also a very good option for women who have excess, stretched, or sagging skin post-pregnancy.

If you are deemed a suitable candidate for a tummy tuck, you may finally be able to get rid of the bulge in your belly. The surgeon will use sutures (stitches) to close the gap in your abdominal muscles and tighten the abdominal wall. Not only will this alleviate your back pain, urinary incontinence, and constipation symptoms, but it will also help to give you the firm, flat tummy you’ve been trying so hard to achieve. What’s more, your plastic surgeon will remove excess, sagging skin to give your tummy an aesthetically pleasing appearance.

You don’t have to live with a bulging belly. If you’re bothered by a protruding midsection and suspect you may have rectus diastasis, get in touch with one of our plastic surgeons today.

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