By Julia Di Paola
Checking for diastasis recti abdominis (DRA) can present its challenges; if you have looked on the Internet, you will have seen a myriad of "helpful tips." Sadly, many of those videos and tips are misguided and not up to date. Remember, we are looking for your ability to generate tension across the midline. Here's where most women make mistakes when assessing for a DRA.
1. Focusing on the distance between the recti muscles, aka the inter recti distance
Although this measurement has some value – an eight-finger separation will require a little more attention than a three-finger one – the important thing is that the Core 4 can generate tension across that space. I have seen three and four finger separations generate beautiful tension and I have seen one finger separations have no tension at all. I have also seen the IRD get wider, yes wider, when the tension is restored.
2. Lifting her head too far off the ground to measure the distance
When doing the curl-up task to check for diastasis you want to know if the Core 4 muscles activate immediately. Remember, their job is anticipatory, this means they fire before anything else, even before you move. So that means you should feel tension just before you lift your head. Once your head is off the ground, your other abdominals need to come on to help BUT, you should continue to feel tension. So if you don't feel the muscles grab your fingers on either side, add another finger and try again. I usually measure the IRD first, then go back and check the tension.
3. They mistake IAP (intra abdominal pressure) for tension
When you feel tension, it should feel like something is tightening under your finger, not pushing your finger out. If you feel your finger moving out of the linea alba, then it is likely that you are cheating with your oblique muscles and/or bracing your abdominals. Doing either will increase IAP, which is not true tension as it increases the downward pressure on the pelvic floor.
4. They don’t seek professional guidance
Health professionals focused on women's health, and especially those that have taken our course, are experts at assessing a DRA. Let them do it. You will get a more consistent test. Someone who performs this test on a daily basis will have a more sensitive reading than someone who has never done it before. At the clinic, we use real-time ultrasound (like the one used to see the baby) to visualize the muscles and the linea alba; this can give you a definite diagnosis of your diastasis recti abdominis.
5. They test too early
When we were teaching a recent course to fitness and health professionals, participants consistently wanted to know: when is the best time to assess? As a pelvic floor physiotherapist, I see my patients (ideally) in the first two weeks postpartum. I will do a quick finger check at that visit to get a baseline, but there is so much healing in those first eight weeks, that it really is not recommended that you check yourself at this time. The test itself is stressful to the tissues and can cause damage, you’re tired, there is a lot more abdominal fat, and if you are not accustomed to what a DRA feels like, you won't get a very accurate result. The real information comes at eight weeks postpartum, as that is when the research shows (Coldron et al 2008) that no further improvement will occur without intervention. In those first eight weeks, treat yourself as if you have a diastasis and pelvic floor dysfunction; take things slow, do not strain .
So what's the best way to avoid all these mistakes when checking for your DRA? I recommend getting assessed by one of our physiotherapists . Don't live near us? Try our directory or check yourself and keep these 5 biggest mistakes in mind.
A version of this post first appeared on Bellies Inc.
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