Diastasis Rectified

My journey to heal postpartum diastasis recti


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Do you really need to strengthen your transverse abdominis to heal diastasis recti?

Well, I did it! I am officially and anxiously signed up to become a Restorative Exercise Specialist and will be participating in a January 2015 certification week. If you’ve thought it sounds a little quiet around here, that’s because I’ve been totally overwhelmed by the firehose of information. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, you know? I’m looking forward to sharing bite-sized bits that apply to our conversation here. Thanks for coming along with me! 

The Transversalis

Look at the height on that thing!

If you’ve gotten within a stone’s throw of a diastasis recti you’ve heard the words “transverse abdominis” (TVA) being thrown around. Whole programs have cropped up around the strengthening of this deep-down ab muscle (going up on the “elevator,” anyone? Hundreds of reps daily, perhaps?). I even wrote a post about how to know if you’re actually contracting your TVA. Everybody focuses on it and maybe is hard on it (like, “get it together TVA! You have organs to restrain. Stop lollygagging. Why are you still so weak?”) Geez, I am mean. Maybe if I understood it more I would be a little more compassionate.

Can I call you by your full name?

The full structure is called the transversalis and goes all the way up near your sternum (aka breast bone) and wraps around to your spine. On the bottom side it attaches to your pubic area. In the front, like where the belly button is, there is no TVA muscle fiber – just what’s called aponeurosis. It’s the fascia, or connective tissue, that bring the transversalis full circle and let it create a waist for you. How nice of it.

If you, like me, happen to be lacking a “waist” then the transversalis is sounding pretty important to you right now. This is why it gets all the attention in the diastasis recti recovery programs.

If your waist making muscles aren’t making a waist, then you should contract them a whole bunch and get a waist already! Right? Well, as you may have guessed, it is more complex (dare I say elegant?) than that.

What do abs actually do?

As it turns out, our ab muscles weren’t created for the purpose of giving us a sculpted look. If you think about it, our skeleton goes on a vacation between the last ribs and the “hip bones.” It’s like an organs-fluids-and-food party up in there. That is probably a real theme on a college campus somewhere. Anyway, something has to help keep all those goodies in place and manage the relationship of the top of our bodies to the bottom of our bodies so we don’t just fold over into a heap.

As you might be able to make out from my scribbles (notes from class below), the obliques move your upper body laterally from your lower body. The rectus abdominis aka “six-pack” aka “never gonna see you again” bend the torso forward.

What about the transversalis? It’s job is to concentrically compress.

Illustrations of ab muscles

When you put all these together: side-to-side movement control, frontward folding movement control, and compression you have stability.

Stability while walking, while standing on a Bosu, high-fiving strangers, riding a bull at the saloon, or whatever you are into. Like, you don’t have to do a bunch of side bends to use your obliques. You do need to do that to “get” obliques that need their own bra (bralique?), but not to just have healthy “strong enough” obliques. Just put your body in positions that it needs stability for and everything turns on.

Turn that TV(a) on

Let’s do a little exercise here to demonstrate the transversalis in action. This was exciting to me, but keep in mind that I’m easily entertained. Sometimes I play with my son’s toys after he goes to bed. He’s one and a half.

dropping ribs down

The only difference in these pictures is the position of my ribs (or at least I tried really hard to keep everything I could constant. I don’t have a mirror, so I did my best!). I am not sucking in and I am not consciously contracting my abs. I am just telling my brain to drop my ribs back down because it habitually tells them to shear upward like a big, cocky rooster. Thanks, ballet, for that muscle memory.

One finger is on the bottom point of my ribs and one is on my “hip bone” (ASIS). Just putting our bodies back into this position (which is where the ribs should naturally be) activates the TVA: while we walk, bosu, bull ride, or whatever. It also maximizes the abdominals’ abilities to be strong by keeping them in the right plane of action.

Walking with our ribs down is one of the most important things we can do to help our diastasis heal and restore tone to the transversalis. Really!

Ok, but are isolated TVA contractions bad?

I don’t think so, but they are definitely not a requirement for the road to recovery. A strong transversalis is a requirement, but isolated contractions aren’t. If you feel like you want to keep it up then just make 100% sure you are not sucking in (which I still do constantly – ack!) AND aren’t overdoing it, which could make the muscle fibers too short. Tight muscles are also weak muscles. And remember, the contractions aren’t a replacement for walking or alignment and they can’t decrease your intra-abdominal pressure.

I really want to go for a walk after writing this, but I have a sleeping kid. Can anybody relate?!

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Encouragement for You and Me From Debbie Beane, RES

Debbie Beane, RES

Debbie Beane, RES

Recently, as I was weighing jumping into the Restorative Exercise certification, I was becoming overwhelmed with the feeling that this mountain of information and under-functioning body parts was too intimidating to surmount. I feared that I would pull a Humpty and never get pieced back together.

Then, like a vision, the kind, understanding countenance of Debbie Beane popped up in my Skype window and she spoke knowledge, encouragement, kindness, and genuine empathy to me. She is a mother who has been down the diastasis recti / pelvic floor disorder road, who did MuTu when it was still in infancy, and found Restorative Exercise at the right moment to fall in love with it and start her own RE practice. In short, she is my role model.

Lucky for you, she has bottled some of that kind, brilliant, wise empathy and let me distribute it here to you.

Here are her words for you and for me:

So.

First of all, I offer sympathy and empathy and I-know-your-pain. It is SO HARD to have done this amazing thing (bringing a human into the world?!), and to be dealing with all of the life changes (sleep??) and then to learn that your body is more or less betraying you… it’s hard. For anyone, but especially if you considered yourself particularly healthy or fit beforehand. And then, if you were a very proactive do-everything-Right sort of pregnant person, to learn that there were things you might have done that no one told you about? It’s devastating. How are we supposed to prepare when we don’t even know the right questions to ask??

So. Now you are here, with unhappy results. Know that you are not alone, that in fact there are more people with these issues than you can imagine. But more importantly, know that there *are* things you can do, and that it can, and will, get much much better. Prepare to open your mind and be willing to try things that you don’t understand. Realize that you’re up against a big project, and you’ll spend a lot of time working on it, but that in some ways it’s actually a gift. Because you will end up so much healthier than you were before, and you might never have sought out this information without the catalyst of the injuries.

It’s a small comfort, especially at first, but it’s true. And the benefits you can reap, not only for yourself but for your whole family, are huge. You can help your kids not have to deal with this later on… and maybe you can help other moms, or future moms, by spreading the word. It is frustrating, and depressing, and more than you want to deal with sometimes. But it is what it is, and now you have found the information you need, and all that’s left is to do it.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this because I’ve lost count. I need to print it and put it on my wall. I hope you love it as much as I do. Thank you, Debbie!

You can find more from Debbie over at PositivelyAligned.com.


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Rib thrusting, diastasis recti, and where to go from here

Bellies 2014

I am almost done with the Psoas course from The Restorative Exercise Institute and I am here to report that I am a rib thruster. Notice in the second photo from the right how the bottom of my rib cage is in front of my ASIS (your ASIS is the bony part of your pelvis in the front that is commonly mistaken for a hip bone). This shortens my psoas muscles, shifts the way my body carries its own weight, and increases pressure in all the wrong places. I would explain more, but I’m not an expert. Yet.

This, and other misalignments, help explain explain why Mutu isn’t giving me the results I want. I don’t meant the appearance I want but rather the body function. The machine of my body is more like the ’89 Volvo with the electrical problem that would leave me stranded in the middle of the highway (literally in the middle…of a lane…it would just shut off) and less like the aerodynamic Teslas I see zipping around the city. For example, I was out of commission for days last week with a debilitating neck and back spasm which my 22lb 9mo was only too happy to accommodate [sarcasm]. I have felt like the work I’m doing, while having some visually obvious effect on my body, has not been addressing the full root of the problem. It’s like if you put fertilizer on a plant whose soil is too acidic or alkaline – you are not going to help the plant until you adjust the soil.

I believed I was fixing my “soil” with zero drop shoes and some lifestyle changes, but I’m seeing now that the more fundamental problems require more extensive changes Habits I’ve learned over literally decades (dating all the way back to my first ballet class at 4) and things drilled into me in the Exercise Science building at my college or in the group classroom at the gym not only contributed to this problem in the first place but are preventing me from being well.

BUT WAIT, it’s not all sad panda around here! I am on a trajectory to fix these underlying issues. While Wendy does base many of her exercises on Katy’s work, I need more information and practical knowledge. I need to understand all the “whys” because that’s just the kind of woman I am, I guess. It won’t affect change in me until I really “get” it, that much I know is true. That’s why I have signed up to complete the first step of the certification program to become a Restorative Exercise Specialist. It’s a nice goal to have, but in end systems are more important than goals. So, part of my “system” is to continue to integrate what I’m learning and applying into this blog and pass on the information to all of you with separated bellies wondering if it can even get better. Together we can create healthier, happier bodies that work with us and not against us. I hope you’ll join me. 🙂