Diastasis rectus abdominis, characterized by the separation along the linea alba, can dramatically affect an individual’s physical functioning and confidence, compromising abdominal wall integrity and often causing a noticeable bulge in the abdomen due to the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles. The separation of the rectus abdominis muscles is a common outcome of pregnancy, yet it can also affect male and postpartum health.

Physical therapy for diastasis recti offers a path to recovery and strength, specifically targeting the rectus abdominis and pelvic floor muscles to enhance pelvic stability, through methods such as load transfer optimization, kinetic chain rehabilitation, functional movement screening, scar tissue mobilization (for post-cesarean cases), motor control retraining, and myofascial release techniques. Through patient-specific approaches, physical therapists guide individuals toward regaining their core stability.

What Is Diastasis Rectus Abdominis?

Diastasis rectus abdominis is a condition wherein the left and right sides of the outermost abdominal muscle separate, creating a gap. This condition most frequently occurs as a result of pregnancy.

During pregnancy, the uterus expands, applying pressure to the abdominal wall and linea alba, causing the connective tissue to stretch, increasing fascial tension, impacting tissue tensegrity, and often leading to diastasis recti.

Other causes include rapid weight changes, obesity, weight gain, genetics, and lifting heavy weights improperly.

The condition is also common in infants and typically resolves without intervention as the child grows.

Physical therapists play a crucial role in helping individuals manage DRA through proprioceptive training, improving their strength, function, and overall quality of life.

2. Symptoms of Diastasis Recti

Separated stomach muscles are usually painless, allowing the condition to go unnoticed until physical changes are visible.

However, individuals experiencing DRA may face a variety of issues that affect their daily lives, including “flabbiness” around the midsection, discomfort in the lower back, and a protruding or “domed” appearance of the abdomen during activities such as lifting or rolling over in bed.

These symptoms can lead to impaired movement and a weakened core. For those juggling the demands of daily life, including the responsibilities of caring for a newborn or engaging in physically demanding tasks, such complications may significantly diminish their quality of life.

Further, individuals affected by poor posture or pain in the pelvic or hip regions often find these symptoms exacerbate the strain on their bodies, making neuromuscular adaptation an important component of their rehabilitation. Though the symptoms can appear mild, addressing them with appropriate physical therapy is essential for restoring strength, improving posture, and resuming everyday activities confidently and comfortably.

Long-term Consequences of Untreated Diastasis Recti

While diastasis recti may seem like a purely cosmetic concern, leaving it untreated can lead to significant long-term health implications:

  1. Chronic Back Pain: The weakened abdominal muscles fail to support the spine adequately, leading to increased stress on the back muscles. This can result in chronic lower back pain and poor posture.
  2. Pelvic Floor Dysfunction: The interconnected nature of the core means that abdominal weakness can impact pelvic floor strength. This may lead to urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, or sexual dysfunction.
  3. Hernia Risk: The separation in the abdominal muscles increases the risk of developing umbilical or ventral hernias, as the abdominal organs have less support.
  4. Core Instability: Ongoing core weakness can affect balance, stability, and overall functional movement, increasing the risk of falls and injuries.
  5. Digestive Issues: Some individuals with untreated DRA report digestive problems such as constipation or bloating, possibly due to compromised abdominal support.
  6. Body Image and Mental Health: The physical changes associated with DRA can negatively impact body image and self-esteem, potentially leading to anxiety or depression.
  7. Decreased Athletic Performance: For active individuals, untreated DRA can significantly impair athletic performance and increase the risk of sports-related injuries.
  8. Chronic Pain Syndromes: The biomechanical changes resulting from DRA can contribute to the development of chronic pain syndromes affecting the back, hips, and pelvis.

Research by Fernandes da Mota et al. (2015) in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy highlighted the correlation between DRA and various musculoskeletal dysfunctions, emphasizing the importance of timely intervention.

Given these potential long-term consequences, early diagnosis and proper treatment of diastasis recti are crucial for maintaining overall health and quality of life.

Diagnosing Diastasis Recti

Diagnosing diastasis recti requires careful evaluation of the linea alba, often identifying a noticeable bulge, involving both observational and physical examination techniques by a professional, including a comprehensive biomechanical assessment.

Under the guidance of a skilled physical therapist, an individual undergoes a thorough assessment, where the practitioner palpates the abdomen to determine if diastasis recti is present. This hands-on examination is often complemented by inquiries about the individual’s medical history, focusing on factors that could contribute to the condition, such as pregnancy or past surgeries.

Additionally, the physical therapist may observe the patient’s movements and postures to identify any signs of “doming” or other indications of DRA. By considering symptoms like a seemingly flabby abdomen, weak midsection, and associated pains, they provide a comprehensive diagnosis that lays the groundwork for a personalized treatment plan.

Step-by-step, these knowledgeable professionals employ a methodical approach to not only diagnose diastasis recti with precision but also formulate strategies that address individual needs, enhancing one’s quality of life. Their expertise ensures that no aspect of the condition remains overlooked, fostering a recovery path characterized by strength and resilience.

Physical Therapy for Diastasis Recti

Physical therapy is essential for addressing diastasis recti, helping individuals regain their strength, stamina, and overall function by improving abdominal wall integrity through exercises like the modified plank. Through tailored exercises, education, and hands-on techniques, physical therapists guide patients on the path to recovery.

This comprehensive approach supports core stabilization, improves postural alignment and posture, and addresses pelvic tilt, promoting a safe return to daily activities.

Education and Guidance

Physical therapists provide essential guidance—empowering—through educational resources that address both the physical and emotional aspects of managing diastasis recti.

Physical therapy can improve quality of life by enhancing core strength and overall function.

In-depth knowledge enables individuals to adapt their lifestyles, incorporating safe movements and exercises tailored to their specific condition, fostering a proactive approach to recovery.

Understanding the intricacies of diastasis recti, alongside learning effective postural strategies, neuromuscular reeducation, breathing techniques, and kinetic chain rehabilitation, lays the foundation for a successful rehabilitation journey.

Postural Training

Effective postural training is critical for managing diastasis recti. It involves engaging core muscles through specific techniques and exercises aimed at core muscle activation.

  1. Learn to activate the transverse abdominis.
  2. Incorporate diaphragm breathing methods.
  3. Strengthen low back muscles.
  4. Enhance pelvic floor muscle engagement.

Physical therapists guide patients in learning these techniques to ensure proper muscle coordination and strength.

These strategies provide foundational support to everyday activities, making them both safer and more efficient.

Exercise Training

Exercise training, such as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), plays a vital role in rehabilitating diastasis recti.

Physical therapists, as highly trained movement experts, curate a personalized exercise program that focuses on the gradual strengthening of the abdominal muscles. This selective and progressive approach ensures the reintegration of all four layers of stomach muscles, fostering balanced and holistic rehabilitation.

Specifically, exercises that target the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and internal and external obliques are incorporated. These exercises are meticulously designed to engage these muscle groups without exacerbating the condition, thereby promoting safe and steady improvement.

Moreover, this evidence-based exercise regimen goes beyond merely addressing abdominal separation. It fortifies the entire core, enhancing overall stability, posture, and functional movement. This comprehensive strategy not only aids in recovery but also empowers individuals to regain confidence and return to their daily activities with renewed strength and enthusiasm.

Specific exercises for DRA rehabilitation typically follow a progression from basic activation to more complex movements:

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing: This foundational exercise helps engage the deep core muscles and promotes proper intra-abdominal pressure management.
    Progression: Start lying down, advance to seated, then standing positions.
  2. Transverse Abdominis (TA) Activation: Often called the “drawing-in” maneuver.
    Progression: Begin with isolated TA contractions, then integrate into various positions and movements.
  3. Pelvic Floor Exercises: Kegel exercises and variations.
    Progression: Advance from basic contractions to coordinated pelvic floor and TA activation.
  4. Dead Bug Exercise: A safe core exercise that minimizes abdominal bulging.
    Progression: Start with arms only, then legs only, and finally combine arm and leg movements.
  5. Modified Planks: Build overall core strength without excessive intra-abdominal pressure.
    Progression: Begin with wall planks, advance to knees-down planks, then full planks as tolerated.
  6. Bird Dog: Promotes core stability and back strength.
    Progression: Start on all fours with single-limb movements, and advance to opposite arm and leg lifts.
  7. Pallof Press: An anti-rotation exercise that strengthens the entire core.
    Progression: Begin in a static standing position, advance to a split stance, or during walking.

Remember, proper form is crucial, and exercises should be performed under the guidance of a qualified physical therapist to ensure they are appropriate for your specific condition and stage of recovery.

Bracing and Support

Bracing and support are pivotal aspects of physical therapy for diastasis recti.

In 2016, renowned researchers, in a landmark clinical finding, underscored the effectiveness of bracing in promoting abdominal muscle recovery and reducing separation. This study illuminated the significant role braces and support garments play.

These supports work by placing the abdominal muscles in a more anatomically correct position and providing external reinforcement to the healing tissues. By doing so, they allow for better engagement of the core during both exercise and everyday activities.

Individuals utilizing braces or support garments report increased comfort, reduced pain, and enhanced performance in core-strengthening exercises. Such positive outcomes make bracing an invaluable tool in the early phases of postpartum recovery. Educating patients about the proper use and fit of these supports is essential.

In conclusion, bracing and support can significantly aid the recovery process by ensuring proper alignment.

Electrical Muscle Stimulation

Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) is a treatment that employs electrical impulses to activate the rectus abdominis muscle.

  • Gently activates the rectus abdominis muscle
  • Improves function by reducing muscle separation
  • Helps postpartum recovery and adults with DRA
  • Strengthens and restores muscle integrity

EMS is particularly beneficial after pregnancy to enhance muscle function.

Physical therapists use EMS to target muscle imbalances and improve core strength.

Integrating DRA Rehabilitation into Daily Life and Exercise Routines

Successful management of diastasis recti extends beyond targeted exercises to encompass daily activities and other forms of exercise:

  1. Functional Movements:
    • Practice proper form when lifting objects, emphasizing engaging the core and avoiding increased abdominal pressure.
    • Use DRA-friendly techniques for getting in and out of bed or rising from a seated position.
  2. Posture Awareness:
    • Maintain good posture throughout the day, engaging the core muscles to support the spine.
    • Use ergonomic setups at work to promote proper alignment.
  3. Cardiovascular Exercise:
    • Low-impact activities like walking, swimming, or stationary cycling can be safely incorporated.
    • Progress gradually to more intense cardio as core strength improves, always monitoring for abdominal doming.
  4. Strength Training:
    • Begin with bodyweight exercises, focusing on proper form and core engagement.
    • Gradually introduce resistance training, avoiding exercises that cause abdominal bulging.
  5. Flexibility and Mobility Work:
    • Incorporate gentle stretching and mobility exercises, being mindful of positions that may strain the abdominal area.
  6. Mind-Body Practices:
    • Modified yoga or Pilates can complement DRA rehabilitation, emphasizing core awareness and control.
  7. Household Chores:
    • Apply core engagement techniques during activities like vacuuming, gardening, or carrying groceries.
  8. Child Care (if applicable):
    • Use proper body mechanics when lifting and carrying children.
    • Adapt nursing or feeding positions to support good posture and core engagement.

The key is to maintain awareness of your core throughout daily activities, applying the principles learned in targeted DRA rehabilitation. This integrated approach helps reinforce proper core muscle activation patterns and supports long-term recovery and prevention.

Preventing Diastasis Recti

Prevention begins with a mindful approach.

Understanding the risk factors, such as weight gain, and early signs plays a crucial role. Pregnant individuals can benefit from core-stabilizing exercises and pelvic tilt adjustments that strengthen and protect abdominal muscles. Particularly, learning how to engage the transverse abdominis properly helps mitigate the separation of the rectus abdominis.

Consistent monitoring is paramount for effective prevention.

Core-stabilizing exercises such as – but not limited to – controlled pelvic tilts, safe breathing exercises, and modified planks reinforce pelvic and abdominal regions. By adhering to a well-structured exercise regimen, individuals can significantly minimize the risk.

Physical therapy programs tailored to individual needs offer an expert-led pathway to effective prevention strategies. Regular consultations with qualified therapists ensure adherence to safe practices, greatly enhancing the likelihood of maintaining strong, healthy abdominal muscles.

Role of Nutrition in Recovery and Prevention

Proper nutrition plays a vital role in both the prevention and recovery of diastasis recti. A well-balanced diet supports tissue healing, maintains healthy body weight, and provides the necessary nutrients for muscle repair and strength.

Key nutritional considerations include:

  1. Protein Intake: Adequate protein is crucial for muscle repair and growth. Aim for lean sources such as fish, poultry, legumes, and plant-based proteins.
  2. Collagen-Boosting Nutrients: Vitamin C, zinc, and amino acids like proline and glycine support collagen production, essential for connective tissue strength. Foods rich in these nutrients include citrus fruits, berries, nuts, and bone broth.
  3. Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, chia seeds, and walnuts can help reduce inflammation and support healing.
  4. Fiber-Rich Foods: A high-fiber diet can prevent constipation, reducing strain on the abdominal muscles during bowel movements.
  5. Hydration: Proper hydration is essential for tissue elasticity and overall healing.
  6. Micronutrients: Vitamins A, D, and E, along with minerals like zinc and copper, play crucial roles in tissue repair and immune function.

A study by Hickey et al. (2016) in the Nutrition Journal highlighted the importance of nutritional support in postpartum recovery, including abdominal muscle healing.

It’s important to note that while nutrition alone cannot cure diastasis recti, it forms a crucial part of a holistic approach to recovery and prevention when combined with appropriate exercise and physical therapy.

6. Choosing the Right Physical Therapist

Selecting the right physical therapist is crucial.

Finding someone with the right qualifications can make a difference. Physical therapists specializing in diastasis recti often possess advanced training and certifications. Additionally, seeking a professional with experience in obstetrics or women’s health can further ensure specialized treatment for postpartum recovery.

Expertise in pelvic health is vital.

Ask potential therapists about their qualifications. Don’t hesitate to inquire about their specific experience with diastasis recti, and request references if needed.

Moreover, recommendations from healthcare providers, friends, or family can be invaluable in making an informed decision. Reputable physical therapists welcome a collaborative approach, ensuring the prescribed exercises and interventions align with individual needs and goals. This tailored attention maximizes recovery potential, paving the way for a healthier, more resilient core.


Can diastasis recti be corrected with exercise?

Yes, diastasis recti can often be corrected with proper, targeted exercises focusing on deep core activation. Professional guidance is crucial to ensure exercises are performed correctly and safely.

When should one start therapy?

For postpartum women, gentle exercises can start a few days after birth, with more intensive therapy around 6-8 weeks postpartum. For others, therapy can begin as soon as DRA is diagnosed, always with a healthcare professional’s approval.

How long does it take to heal diastasis recti with exercise?

Healing time varies widely, typically ranging from 3 to 12 months for full recovery. Consistent, proper exercise and patience are key, as some may see initial improvements in 6-8 weeks while others may need longer.


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Laframboise FC, Schlaff RA, Baruth M. Postpartum Exercise Intervention Targeting Diastasis Recti Abdominis. Int J Exerc Sci. 2021 Apr 1;14(3):400-409. PMID: 34055160; PMCID: PMC8136546.

Nahas FX, Ferreira LM, Mendes Jde A. An efficient way to correct recurrent rectus diastasis. Aesthetic Plast Surg. 2004 Jul-Aug;28(4):189-96. doi: 10.1007/s00266-003-0097-7. PMID: 15599529.

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