Diastasis recti is a non-life-threatening condition affecting the pair of long, flat muscles, known as the rectus abdominis, that run vertically down each side of the abdomen. These muscles are referred to as “six-pack muscles” and help stabilize the body’s trunk and hold in the abdomen’s internal organs. Mostly affecting women, diastasis recti happen when these muscles separate, often during pregnancy or after giving birth, leaving a gap, a belly pouch, or a sense of abdominal weakness.
Other health issues that may arise due to a diastasis include chronic low back pain, pelvic or hip pain, constipation, urinary incontinence, and pain during sex. Specialized physical therapy can help reduce this unwelcome change and regain strength in these muscles. If the diastasis is severe and there are no plans to get pregnant again, surgery may be an option.
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Kenneth Shestak, MD, Chief of Plastic Surgery at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC and Professor of Surgery in the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, cares for patients with diastasis recti and recently spoke with Pittsburgh KDKA reporter Heather Abraham about the condition and its treatment options.
With specialized physical therapy, “There are five paired muscles that work together and if you can strengthen the muscles many times you can see an improvement in that separation,” Dr. Shestak said. “What we tend to see are people who’ve really worked hard to try to do it without surgery and still have a bulge in the mid-portion of the abdomen.”
He also noted that moms are not the only ones who suffer from this. Dr. Shestak said he sees it frequently in patients who’ve gained a lot of weight and sometimes in men who do a lot of weight lifting.
While the condition is not life-threatening, it’s not something you want to let go.
“If left to its own devices and it progresses, there can be problems with back pain, discomfort when getting out of a chair, arising from a sitting position to a standing position,” Dr. Shestak said.
For people who do have to have surgery for this, Dr. Shestak said recovery time is fairly quick these days thanks to advancements in how they do the operation. He said the procedure not only treats the underlying muscle problem, but also helps improve the shape and contour of the abdomen.