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. Moreover, the width of your gap is actually not the most important thing to assess when determining the severity of your DR. Wait what? Yes…that’s right.
In this post, we’ll walk you through step-by-step how to perform the DR assessment, what exactly to look for, and how to perform the test in a manner that improves your testing accuracy. Finally, we’ll share some guidance on how to take action on your results so you can confidently begin your healing process.
Diastasis Recti: What to Check For
Before reading further about how to perform a DR Self-Check, make sure you understand the basics of what DR is and how it’s caused by reviewing Diastasis Recti: What You Need to Know.
Recall that DR is a separation of the left and right sides of the rectus abdominis muscle. Therefore, the first thing to check for is how far apart those left and right sides of your rectus abdominis muscle are. While there is no standard definition of DR, the most well-accepted definition is a gap width of 2.7 cm (approximately 2 finger-widths) or greater. In other words, try to feel for 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.
Most people think this is the only thing to assess. After all, we almost always hear DR discussed in terms of finger-widths. 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 and taut, this is a good sign. It indicates good integrity of your linea alba connective tissue (that “silly putty” like tissue that connects the two sides of your rectus muscle). However, if the gap feels “soft and squishy” enabling you to sink your fingers down into your abdomen more, this is a sign of a more compromised linea alba tissue, and therefore your healing process may take longer. We’ll elaborate on this a bit more in the testing instructions.
When factoring in your width and depth assessments, the depth measurement weighs even more heavily on the speed of your healing process than the width measurement. 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.
When to Check for Diastasis Recti
We recommend waiting until you are at least 6 weeks postpartum to perform the DR assessment. Remember that every woman will have some degree of DR in the immediate aftermath of delivery, which will heal a bit over the next several weeks. So, waiting at least 6 weeks will give you a more accurate picture of the degree of recovery work needed.
While you can check for DR during pregnancy as well, remember that virtually 100% of women get DR at some point during their third trimester. DR is a normal and natural part of pregnancy. So, just recognize that if you are checking later in your pregnancy, you will likely have it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your body is doing what it is designed to do. Though make sure to follow the tips in Diastasis Recti: What You Need to Know to ensure you don’t engage in activities or behaviors that could exacerbate your DR.
One final note on when to test, avoid performing this test within one hour of eating or if you are feeling bloated. Bloating pushes your abdominal contents forward, thereby widening your gap.
How to Check for Diastasis Recti
Watch the video below to get an overview for how to perform a DR self-Check, then see below for a recap of the steps. If you are a fitness professional looking for guidance on how to assess your clients, please see Checking a Client for DR.
In summary, note the following points to get the best accuracy from your test:
- Lie down safely: Be sure to roll to your side first, before transitioning onto your back to avoid crunching. Then place your knees up and feet flat on the ground.
- Position your hands: Place one hand behind your head, and the other at your sternum with your fingers facing your head so you can measure the width of your gap.
- Perform the assessment at rest first: This can be tricky, but the purpose in doing this is to try to assess the difference in the tension (depth) of your gap from at-rest to when you perform the head lift, so try to make a mental note of how the tension feels.
- Exhale and lift your head (only one inch!): Inhale first, then exhale as you lift your head only one inch off the ground. It can be tempting to try to lift your head up further to see everything, but lifting your head higher will close your gap, and could tell you that you don’t have a gap when you really do.
- Assess for width: Begin walking your fingers downward feeling for the left and right ridges of your rectus abdominis muscle. Check all the way down to a few inches below your navel. Typically, the widest gap is around your navel, but not always. If your gap is 2.7 cm (about 2 finger-widths) or greater, this is considered DR.
- Assess for depth: As you are checking, remember to also check for the depth or tension. Does your gap feel shallow and taut, soft and squishy, or somewhere in between? Refer back to that at-rest check you took. If your gap feels more taut now than it did at rest, that is a good sign. It shows your linea alba is able to generate good tension and your recovery will be faster. However, if you feel barely any difference at all between your resting test and head-lift test, that means the tissue is more compromised, and therefore the healing will likely take longer.
- Safely get up: Don’t forget to roll to your side to get up when you are done!
How to take action on your results
If you believe you have a mild to moderate case of DR, or simply want to work on building your core strength in the most effective way, check out our Postpartum Self-Guided Training Programs. There is an 8-Week Core Recovery Program designed to help you rebuild your core from the inside out, and heal DR. There is also a 16-Week Postpartum Training Program, which includes the Core Recovery Program, as well as core-safe total body workouts.
Please note that if your gap is more severe (over 3 finger-widths and deep), it is best to seek out a women’s health or pelvic floor physical therapist in your area. It’s important to find a physical therapist who specializes in this issue, as not all of them do.
A final (important) word
It seems there is so much focus today on “closing the gap.” However, first of all, hopefully you now understand that the width of your gap is actually not even as important as the depth. Second, remember that many women have a natural gap (DR is anything over 2 finger-widths) and likely you don’t know what your pre-pregnancy gap size was because no one thinks to check then! So, it may not be realistic for you to completely close your gap because perhaps it was never closed in the first place.
In the end, what matters most is that you are able to maintain good core control during movements, you don’t show any symptoms of “coning” in your belly, and you aren’t experiencing pain. Use these metrics to gauge your success vs. a potentially unrealistic goal of complete gap closure.