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Abdominal Separation — Warning Signs to Watch


Abdominal separation, or diastasis recti, is common among pregnant women, especially those who have just given birth. In addition to a visible bulge, the condition can also cause some pain and postural problems as well as the potential for bowel problems. While this is an injury that can heal on its own, it’s important to know the warning signs and symptoms to ensure proper care is given. 

Take a moment to read the following informative and helpful guide to the warning signs of abdominal separation. The USA Spine Care & Orthopedics team is here to help you if you have any questions or would like more information. Please feel free to reach out at any time. 

What is abdominal separation?

Diastasis recti is a term that literally means abnormal separation of the abdominal muscles in the middle of the lower torso. These muscles are a key part of the core muscle group that help to support and stabilize the upper body. During pregnancy these muscles stretch to accommodate the growing baby, and if they stretch too much they can become separated. 

While more than half of pregnant women can expect some degree of abdominal separation, it can also affect nonpregnant women, men and even newborn babies. Any activity that causes excessive stretching and strain on the abdominal muscles can increase the risk of abdominal stretching developing. 

Abdominal separation risk factors

The major risk factors for abdominal separation include:

  • Being pregnant
  • Pushing during birth
  • Excessive strain while lifting heavy objects
  • Performing abdominal exercises incorrectly
  • Poor posture

Although there is no way to fully prevent abdominal separation if you are a pregnant woman, one of the best prevention steps is to avoid exercises that place strain on the abdomen during the late phase of pregnancy and during the postpartum period. Do not perform strenuous physical activity unless you have been cleared by a physician. 

Signs and symptoms of diastasis recti to watch for

The most common warning sign of abdominal separation is a bulge in the abdominal region, especially when the muscles are contracted. Many pregnant women describe this as a “pooch,” and after childbirth it may give the appearance of still being pregnant. 

For any patient with abdominal separation, other common symptoms can include:

  • Back and abdominal pain
  • Postural issues and stooping
  • Bloating and constipation

It is important to receive prompt diagnosis and treatment if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. 

Diagnosing and treating abdominal separation

Doctors can typically diagnose and treat abdominal separation by taking the following steps:

  • Performing a thorough physical examination
  • Reviewing medical history 
  • Asking questions about symptoms and activities 

From there, you and your doctor can work together to develop an effective treatment plan that includes:

  • Physical therapy
  • Pelvic floor rehabilitation
  • Posture improvement 
  • Activity modification
  • Use of a back brace or other implement

Pregnant women or women in the postpartum stage should expect the injury to take approximately six to 12 months to fully heal, although that time can vary significantly depending on severity and other factors. It is critical for the healing process to follow all physician guidance and not engage in any strenuous activity unless given clearance. 

Reach out to USA Spine Care and Orthopedics to learn more

At USA Spine Care and Orthopedics, we’re committed to helping patients from all backgrounds and with a broad range of injuries and conditions find the relief they deserve. We have an experienced, multidisciplinary team that include physical therapy and rehabilitation specialists with expertise in a wide range of treatment, including pelvic floor therapy and deep abdominal therapeutic exercise. We can help you develop a personalized treatment plan that is right for your lifestyle and health goals. To learn more about how we can help you if you are dealing with abdominal separation, contact us today

Abdominal Separation Quick Answers

How do you know if you have abdominal separation?

Although abdominal separation, or diastasis recti, can affect anyone it is most common in pregnant women, particularly after childbirth. The most common sign of the injury is a visible bulge in the abdominal region. This may be accompanied by lower back pain, bending and stooping and bowel obstruction. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. 

Can abdominal separation improve?

Among pregnant women, abdominal separation typically heals over time as the stretched muscles regain strength and elasticity. Anyone diagnosed with the injury should get proper rest and follow all treatment guidelines to ensure the best chance of improvement. 

How do you treat abdominal separation?

If the condition does not improve on its own, doctors will typically recommend a course of treatment that includes physical therapy and postural improvement. A back brace is also commonly used both as a form of prevention and treatment.

How long does Abdominal separation take to heal?

The healing time for abdominal separation varies on a patient by patient basis. However, it should heal within a period of months, with many patients experiencing full healing in six to 12 months. 

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