Checking yourself for Diastasis Recti can be a frustrating experience. Perhaps one day you check yourself and you have a gap that’s 2 fingers wide, but the next day the gap seems smaller (hooray!). Then you check again the following week and now the gap is closer to 3 finger widths. What’s going on? Is your gap really changing this much? Likely not. Unfortunately, the Diastasis Recti test is an imperfect one with many variables that can influence your results. We’ll walk you through step-by-step how to perform the assessment in a manner that improves your testing accuracy. Then, we’ll share some guidance on how to take action so you can confidently begin your healing process.
When to Check for Diastasis Recti
Recall from our overview on Diastasis Recti that virtually ALL women get this sometime in their third trimester of pregnancy. A little DR is a normal and natural part of pregnancy. This natural DR should resolve itself within the first few weeks or months after delivery (it varies for every woman). Therefore, we don’t typically recommend checking for DR during the later stages of pregnancy because 1) you likely do have it anyway, and 2) sometimes lying down and poking your belly at this stage is just uncomfortable. It is fine to check in the earlier stages, but remember, the focus during pregnancy is never on “closing the gap,” because that is not appropriate for the third trimester.
In the immediate aftermath of labor, every woman will still have a separation. Therefore, we recommend waiting at least 6 weeks to check yourself. Even then, don’t be surprised if you still have a bit. You’ll still follow the same recovery process.
What to Check for: Width and Depth
To understand this, it’s important you first understand your abdominal anatomy and what Diastasis Recti is. Recall that DR is a separation of the left and right sides of the rectus abdominis muscle (caused by an extreme stretching of the linea alba tissue that connects the two sides). Therefore, the first thing we are checking for is how far apart those left and right sides of your rectus abdominis muscle are. This is referred to as the inter-recti distance (IRD). While there is no standard definition of DR, the most well-accepted definition is an IRD (or gap) of 2.7 cm (the equivalent of approximately 2 finger-widths) or greater. In other words, when you are checking to feel the distance between the left and right “ridges” of your rectus abdominis muscle, if you can fit two or more fingers in between those ridges, then this would be considered DR.
However, newer research is revealing that depth of separation can actually be a more telling indicator of DR severity. In other words, when you press down on the gap, how “taut” (or not) does it feel? If your gap feels shallow, taut, and springy, this is a good sign. It indicates good integrity of your linea alba connective tissue. However, if the gap feels “soft and squishy” enabling you to sink your fingers down into the gap, this is a sign of a more compromised linea alba tissue, and therefore the healing process may take longer. Unfortunately, there is no objective measurement criteria for the depth measurement like there is for width. It’s really up to your own perception, so just do your best.
When factoring in your width and depth assessments, the depth weighs even more heavily on the speed of your healing process. As an example, a gap that is 3 fingers wide, but quite shallow, will likely take less time to heal than a gap that is 2 fingers wide, but deep.
How to Check for Diastasis Recti
Watch the video below carefully, as there are some nuances to performing this test to reduce variability.
In summary, note the following points to get the best accuracy from your test:
- Watch for bloating: Don’t check within an hour of eating or on a day when you feel bloated. Bloating pushes your abdominal contents forward, which widens your gap.
- Roll to your side: When transitioning onto your back, always roll to your side first to avoid performing a “crunch” (which could worsen DR).
- Place your fingers facing you: Place your two fingers right at your bra line and make sure they are facing you so that you can measure width appropriately.
- Check yourself AT REST first: Yes, we recognize this can be challenging, but just do your best to get a sense of your gap at rest first. You’ll want to note the difference between at-rest and with the exhale/head lift. If you feel a big difference in the tension of your gap feeling more taut/shallow when you lift your head, that’s a good sign. That means your linea alba tissue has the ability to create good tension. If you feel barely any difference at all, that means the tissue is more compromised.
- Exhale as you lift your head: The way you breathe during the assessment impacts your results. Because we are trying to measure the best tension that your linea alba can generate, it’s important to inhale before lifting your head, then begin your exhale a split second before you lift your head (continue exhaling as you lift).
- Only lift your head 1 inch: This is important. Many women will lift their heads up high to try to see a clear view of their stomach, but lifting your head too high causes your gap to close, which can give you a false reading (making you think you don’t have a gap when you really do). Lift your head only until you feel your muscles start to fire, which is typically no more than 1″ off the ground.
- Check for width and depth: Start walking your fingers down your midline, checking for the width of the separation (or how many fingers you can fit in between the ridges of your rectus abdominis muscle) and the depth of the separation (how shallow and taut or deep and squishy it feels).
- Check all the way down: Start at the very top by your sternum and check all the way down to about 2″ below your navel. Typically the widest and/or deepest gap is at your navel, but not always.
- Apply consistent pressure: Note the pressure you are applying as you test yourself. Try to apply this same pressure each time you check, as how hard you press down can also impact your results.
How to take action on your results
If you are still unsure about the test or getting different results, fear not. PROnatal Fitness uses a 3-stage Core Recovery Protocol that we take all postpartum clients through. This protocol is great for general postpartum core recovery, as well as DR and C-section recovery. The key difference is the time it takes to progress through the stages to full recovery. This will vary by your starting condition (degree of DR) and diligence in following the protocol. Interested in working with an expert to coach you through your recovery? Learn more about working with a PROnatal Personal Trainer. You can also check out these these 6 Moves for Rebuilding Your Core.
If you are a professional interested in learning about this topic more to help your clients, we teach the Core Recovery Protocol in-depth during our Pre/Postnatal Performance Training Education.