The Role of Physical Therapy Postpartum

Concerned about post-pregnancy recovery?

 

 

During and after pregnancy, many women experience abdominal muscle seperation caused by stretching and thinning of the inter-abdominal connective tissue. This condition is known as Diastasis recti and is characterized by a >2cm separation of the rectus abdominis muscles at the level of the umbilicus. Many women will describe that they are able to feel a 2-finger width separation in their central abdominal muscles.

What causes abdominal muscle separation?

The most obvious contributor to this condition is increased abdominal pressure due to a small human growing inside you. This is compounded by pregnancy related changes in hormones that increase ligament laxity throughout the body. Weak abdominal muscles and insufficient tension in the network of connective tissue will increase the risk for developing diastasis recti.

  • intra-abdominal pressure
  • hormonal changes
  • weak abdominal muscles
  • strained fascial tissue

How do you treat abdominal muscle separation?

Do not be alarmed! This condition is relatively common and usually resolves on it own. For some women, separation of the abdominal muscles can last for months and even years postpartum. In rare instances invasive medical procedures are required to resolve the condition. The good news is, physical therapy before and after pregnancy can greatly improve patient outcomes.

  • nothing
  • breathing exercises
  • physical therapy
  • pre-pregancy exercise

I will let you in on one important exercise that is easy to perform in the privacy of your own home. This exercise is known as belly breathing. While keeping the rib cage down, push the belly button out as you inhale. This is done by contracting the parachute-like muscle known as the diaphragm.  This muscle pulls the lungs down and allows them to expand. Feel free to pause for a moment at the peak of your inhale and notice the fullness of the lungs. Next, draw the belly button in towards the spine as you exhale. Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach so you can feel your belly rise and fall with each breath.

As you continue to expand and contract your abdominal cavity you will start to exercise the inner muscular layers of the torso. By repeatedly activating these deep abdominal muscles the connective tissue will begin to retract and close the gap in the outer abdominal wall. As always these are only recommendation and a proper in-person assessment from a qualified health care professional should be completed before starting a physical rehabilitation program.