January 27, 2015

How I healed my Diastasis Recti

Dude, if you know what those two words mean I feel your pain. Those cute squishy babies all moving our insides around and stuff - pushing our intestines here, our bladder (oh the bladder) there, and SPLITTING OUR ALREADY SORRY MOMMY "ABS" IN TWO.

If you don't know what diastasis recti is or to check to see if you have it (yes, even men get it), click here for more information. 

You see, I never knew I had diastasis recti until Levi was 18 months old. I was at a PT appointment for all my running stuff when my (awesome - Erik check him out here, shout out shout out!) PT said, "It looks like you have a separation in your abdominal muscles."

What?! And sure enough. When I laid down and tested it all out, my finger width was almost 4 fingers. And, unbeknownst to me, I had been making it worse.

Diastasis recti (DR for short) can cause a whole wad of issues other than just the "mummy tummy." Yes, it's the culprit for the stomach that won't go back into place no matter what you do. Yes, it's the culprit for everyone asking you if you're pregnant when your child is actually potty trained and in the time out stage. Ahem, I could've counted on 17 hands how many times I was "congratulated" hahaha.) But DR can also cause digestive issues, core imbalances (hence a lot of the reason I saw a PT for running), back pain, incontinence, prolapse, and hernias. So we're not just talking about abs and I'm not all advocating we all need to work on a 6-pack or something. Fixing DR (in my experience) is more about healing the body and restoring balance/strength/all that jazz than it is about rocking' a bikini. So there.

Enough talk. Onto how I actually healed my DR and brought my poor little abdominal walls back together. I mean, they missed each other. And now that they've reunited they're all happy and in love again. Before I go into the how and give some better resources other than my ramblings, here are some key points to remember/start doing now:

**STOP DOING AB EXERCISES. The End. Planks, crunches, ANYTHING PILATES, anything related to outward exertion (careful with push ups) with the abdominal muscles - stop doing those now. YOU ARE MAKING IT WORSE. My DR got worse and worse as time went on after having Levi and it's because I was trying to work out my abs. Healing DR is a combination of breathing exercises, training yourself in core support, and to an extent, diet.

**IT TAKES TIME. No, your DR will not be healed overnight. You're looking at probably 6-8 weeks to see initial improvement but once things click in progress will zip along. Don't get discouraged. It's worth it. And I'm living proof that you can go from literally no abdominal support to a tighter (more helpful in life) core.

From the moment I found out I had DR I started researching and stumbled upon the Tuppler Technique (TT for short). Not wanting to shell out money for the program I actually found an article on how to do the TT and started right away. I only got a month or so into it before I got pregnant with Lola but I continued with the TT during pregnancy and afterwards noticed that I had actually closed  the gap by a couple finger widths. (2 finger widths is considered "normal" ab separation). I fluctuated as everything was healing postpartum and now I'm back to within normal range.

So, I guess in order to make sense, here's a checklist bullet point thing of what I did to heal my DR:

-As listed above, I stopped all planks, crunches, etc until I was healed and even now I still do my TT exercises and am super careful with my breathing during weight lifting sessions and with everything else...

-Did the Tuppler Technique breaths 300-500 times a day. You can get the book here, or HERE is a great article explaining the technique. I was able to learn it without the book or DVD. Main points: breath in through the nose and when exhaling, breath out through the mouth and pull the transverse abdominals into the spine NEVER OUTWARDS. I learned to do it by breating out/counting as I pulled my abdominal muscles to my spine - blowing a breath with each count, working up to 100 breaths a time a few times a day. Takes a bit to get used to it but I'm actually doing it now as I type this. During my workouts I would sit in my chair do them in place of what I would usually do "ab" wise. I did them in the car. I did them standing doing dishes (although less effective standing)

-I CONSTANTLY HELD IN MY CORE. "Belly button to the spine" replayed over and over into my head. No, it's not like holding your breath. But by constantly holding in my core and not splaying my abdominal muscles out even more I was able to provide support to my (growing belly). I paid special attention while running, getting up out of bed or off the couch (again, any outward exertion makes it worse), picking up kids, lifting weights, getting groceries, you name it. And by holding/supporting my core I had ZERO back or pelvic pain during pregnancy. I think it's the main reason I was able to keep running and the reason I felt so good at the end.

-NOTE: The hardest part is just remembering. But over time you'll train yourself to constantly hold the abdominals in and breath correctly and it'll become second nature.

-Special note about pregnancy: since the abdominals are already weak be extra careful when you use the bathroom (TMI? not when it comes to the mummy tummy lol) and when you push during labor. You could go your whole pregnancy without DR and split those babies open (no pun intended) during the pushing stage of labor. I can't remember where I found it but I researched the correct way to push (breathing wise) and not only does it pop that baby out faster and more effectively but by breathing correctly the force will go to get the baby out and not to splitting the abs open. I also tried to splint during the pushing stage (mostly with my hands - holding the abdominals together - which actually helped me push correctly) but I didn't do it all the way right because well, I was swearing up a storm or something.

-After the birth of Lola I used a splint. I researched the CRAP outta 17,000 different splints, tried a couple, and THIS IS THE ONE I LOVED - it's called the Squeem. Make sure to measure yourself where it tells you. After birth I was a medium, now I'm down to a small. No, the splint won't fix everything for you however it does do two important things: 1) it holds the abdominal muscles in the correct place as everything is healing postpartum and 2) it is a constant reminder to do the breathing exercises and hold your core. I wore mine from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed for the first 6 weeks (OK, a lot of days I forgot or didn't care) and I still throw it on a couple days a week to keep reminding myself to breathe correctly and hold in my core.

-The TT and breathing exercises can help anyone - not just people with DR. My trainer actually sent me a video on breathing exercises to make sure that I'm doing and it is very similar to the TT breathing.

OK, I hope that helped! There are a ton of great articles out there but really, if you do the breathing exercises consistently (it'll feel weird and ineffective at first), stop everything that's making it worse (if you take an exercise class sit out during the ABS part - I actually do ZERO specific ab work other than planks however my core has never been this tight), and learn to hold in your core at all time (especially when exerting any effort) you will be on your way to closing the gap.

Up next....Pregnancy 4.0 2.0 where I talk about the new things I did after having Lola, during the newborn period, to feel good, keep my postpartum depression at bay, and recover well. Until then, time to go comfort a teething babe........

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