How to Tell if Your Ab Muscles Were Torn, Split or Damaged During Pregnancy

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Do you feel as though your abs have torn during pregnancy? If you’ve been struggling with a worsening abdominal bulge or back pain and muscle weakness after giving birth, then chances are that yes, they may very well be. Find out more by reading our overview of Diastis Recti (torn or split abdominal muscles) and how to tell if your ab muscles were torn during pregnancy.

Have my abs split or torn during pregnancy?

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After pregnancy, many women are often eager to get their post-baby body back and feel great within their own skin again. Even if you exercise regularly and keep in shape during pregnancy, the extensive changes that your body goes through during this time can come as a shock.

It is no surprise that women can become dismayed when diet and exercise alone don’t seem to help restore their pre-pregnancy body shape. However, there is often another reason for this. Abdominal muscles can be torn, split and damaged during pregnancy and childbirth; this condition is known as diastis recti.

Many mums remain unfamiliar with the condition of torn abs during or after pregnancy and assume it is their fault that they can’t restore their belly to it’s ‘normal’ shape and size. In reality, diastis recti can make that nearly impossible without surgical help.

What is the condition of torn abs, or Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis recti is a disorder that is generally defined as the separation of the abdomen muscle into right and left halves. Basically, the abs split – or divide – into two, greatly reducing your core strength.

Typically when this condition happens, a pregnant woman’s uterus pushes against the muscles and separates them. Pregnancy hormones also weaken the tissues that hold these muscles together.

Diastis recti as a result of pregnancy can lead to:

  • Back pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Incontinence
  • Skin infection due to excess skin folds and loose skin

Many women don’t realize their “mummy pooch” isn’t due to lack of exercise or a poor diet; it’s due to abdominal separation. Though the words muscle separation may make you think “flabby, loose, and painful” – it’s actually quite common.

Who is prone to diastasis recti?

It seems that nearly anyone who has had more than one child is highly likely to have torn abdominal muscles.

Women with the highest chances of having damaged abdominal muscles due to pregnancy include:

  • Being over the age of 35
  • Having experienced multiple pregnancies
  • Delivering a high birth-weight baby

If you too have been struggling to remove your post-baby belly bulge after pregnancy, you’re not alone. As many as 1 in 3 mums eventually discover they have abdominal separation.

Having split abs is something that many women either end up accepting or choosing to have surgery to repair (typically a Tummy Tuck). For people who care about how they look after pregnancy and want a firmer, tighter belly area; Abdominoplasty surgery can be life-changing.

How to tell if you have separated abdominal muscles due to pregnancy?

Self-assessment for the condition of Diastasis Recti is the first step, but a professional medical evaluation can give you better advice. For example, you might have a hernia as well as torn abs or an entirely different condition that is causing the bulge.

  • Firstly, you will need to allow an adequate period of time for your body to adjust post-pregnancy before you assess the situation.
  • As pregnancy results in such a huge change for your body, this can take from several months, up to a year or two.
  • If after exercising for a reasonable amount of time and eating healthy meals and your body still isn’t anywhere near the same condition that it was before childbirth, you might consider these self-assessment techniques. post-pregnancy-belly-bulge-diastasis-recti.jpg

There are three ways to tell if your abdominal muscles were damaged or torn during pregnancy:

  • A visible gap in the middle of your abdominal area (more than 2 1/2 finger-widths) when the abdomen is fully contracted.
  • The gap does not shrink as you contract your abdomen.
  • You can see a small mound protruding along the length of your mid-line.

In addition, there is a simple test you can perform at home:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, and the soles of your feet on the floor
  2. Place one hand behind your head, and the other hand on your abdomen. Ensure your fingertips are across your stomach at the level of your belly button
  3. With your abdominal wall relaxed, gently press your fingertips into your stomach
  4. Roll your upper body off the floor into a “crunch” position, making sure that your ribcage moves closer to your pelvis
  5. Move your fingertips back and forth across your midline, feeling for the right and left sides of your abdominal muscle.
  6. Feel for separation at, above, and below your belly button. It’ll be a palpable division, although can be easier to feel on some belly areas than others.

Can exercise fix torn abs after pregnancy?

If you find you have abdominal separation, there are things you can do to help mitigate but not repair the condition. In fact, the wrong exercises can actually make the bulge of the split abdominal muscles appear even worse.

Some properly performed abdominal exercises, including many Pilates moves, may help: 

  • Cardio, strength training and yoga  – ideally under the direction of a physio or fitness trainer – can be a great place to start if your condition of diastasis recti is somewhat mild.
  • Some, but not all, abdominal exercises are also appropriate for a mild condition.
  • In fact, some exercises can make belly bulges worse, such as crunches or improperly performed abdominal exercises.

Exercises for separated abdominal muscles

  • Abdominal compressions, pelvic tilts, toe taps, bridges, etc. will help separated muscles.
  • The stomach should remain pulled in, rather than pushed out while exercising.
  • This explains why pilates instructors and physiotherapists are so adamant about keeping your navel pulled in during abdominal exercises.

It is important to note, exercises can tighten the belly somewhat but exercises cannot, on their own, repair and rejoin torn abdominal muscles. 

Despite all of the exercises you do, you may never again have a tummy that doesn’t significantly protrude. Furthermore, along with post-pregnancy hormonal changes and an altered Body Mass Index (BMI), you’ll probably also have areas of your body that have accumulated body fat or uneven body fat distribution. This can make the appearance of a bulging belly even worse.

So, what are my next steps?

See your Physician, Obstetrician/Gynaecologist or Plastic Surgeon if you suspect your abdominal area has suffered notable muscle damage during pregnancy. They will be able to confirm if you have separated abdominal muscles.

Early recovery from muscle-tears during pregnancy

diastasis recti, separated abdominal muscles can occur during pregnancy

Your Medical Care providers will also be able to help you learn the best methods of how to lift things properly, how to use good posture, how to get out of bed or stand up properly, etc. These efforts can sometimes help prevent your separation from worsening and give you a chance to recover as much as possible without surgery.

Most women can begin exercising about six weeks after pregnancy, but sometimes it might be even longer such as if you had a caesarean section delivery.

There are some at-home self-assessments that can help you guess if your abs have split as a result of pregnancy, although we suggest that you see a doctor or a Surgeon for a proper evaluation, especially if you have excess skin folds or sagging belly skin.

If you’re suffering from back pain, a lack of strength, or have bulges in the belly area that refuse to yield to consistent abdominal strengthening exercises or pilates, a professional consultation will help you to find out what’s really wrong.

Abdominoplasty Surgery to repair diastis recti

Tummy Tuck & Abdominal Muscle Repair or Belt Lipectomy

If months or years have passed and your diastasis recti has not recovered, there are additional options for recovery.

  • Surgery may be performed if the separation is larger than 2 centimeters.
  • During a complete Tummy Tuck and abdominal muscle repair (abdominal corrective surgery) for diastasis recti, your Plastic Surgeon will tighten the muscles, remove extra skin and reduce excess body fat, and bring the abdominal muscles back together.
  • After healing, this allows them to work more effectively again, making all those pilates exercises or crunches actually have a far better effect!

Surgery for muscle separation is similar to, or often part of, a comprehensive tummy tuck by a qualified Plastic Surgeon. Be sure you know what you’re getting when you ask any Surgeon for a Tummy Tuck/Abdominoplasty – read one patient’s General Surgery tummy tuck which turned out to be essentially only an Apronectomy – her story is on our blog.

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Some women may only need the muscle tightened, which can be done through a small incision in the bikini line. Patients with a large amount of excess skin will need a more involved surgery – a full tummy tuck. In this procedure, the muscle is tightened, extra skin is removed, and belly button is relocated.

Abdominoplasty; Tummy Tuck; Melbourne; Plastic Surgery

You Should Have Realistic Expectations

Surgery will not necessarily help you remove excess fat. It will, however, remove skin and the “pooch” of the stomach.  If a tummy tuck or other body surgery is combined with liposuction, however, some excess fat can be removed for improved body contours.


Who is a Good Candidate for Surgery?

Abdominal and Breast Surgery should ideally only be performed after you are finished having children; and remember that other life events, including hormonal fluctuations, weight changes, illnesses and ageing, will impact on your surgery results over time.

You may be a good candidate for muscle separation surgery if you are physically healthy, an ideal weight, and have realistic expectations about surgery.

diastasis recti, separated abdominals pregnancy; best exercises abdominal pregnancy, separated abs

Recovery time is typically 1-2 weeks out of your normal routine, longer for heavy lifting or strenuous activities.  You may typically resume gentle exercises about 6 weeks after surgery, but your Surgeon will give you specific, custom advice, as this information is general only and every patient is different. For best Abdominal surgery outcomes from a full Tummy Tuck with repair of separated abdominal muscles, you will need to follow all post-op advice exactly, including exercise restrictions and wearing support garments as instructed. 


What to Do If You Think Your Muscles Are Separated

First and foremost, be sure you are exercising properly. This requires the advice of a physiotherapist or exercise professional with the right qualifications and back ground.  You may also be able to get ultrasound on your abdominal muscles by your Physiotherapist during exercises to see if you’re using the muscles correctly.

Crunches and certain abdominal exercises done improperly can actually potentially worsen diastasis recti – so be sure to get professional exercise advise from a physiotherapist or exercise physician.

It takes time to get your “post pregnancy” body back – and that’s okay.  Keep your expectations realistic as pregnancy will permanently change your body.

However, if you are concerned about abdominal muscle separation and a noticeable ‘tummy pouch’ that won’t go away – send an enquiry form to discuss the possibility of an Abdominoplasty or Belt Lipectomy “tummy tuck” procedure.

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Read more information on Tummy Tucks:

Tummy Tuck Surgeon In Melbourne

Last updated: 25/08/2019
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Dr Geoff Barnett
Dr Geoffrey Barnett, FRACS (Plas) is a Melbourne based Specialist Plastic Surgeon who has over 35 years of expertise in Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon for Cosmetic Surgery, Plastic Surgery and Body Contouring Surgery after Bariatric Surgery.Qualifications and Memberships: Specialist Plastic Surgeon (FRACS) Member - Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery [FRACS (Plast).The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) is the only professional body recognised by the Australian Medical Council (AMC) and the Medical Council of New Zealand (MCNZ) to train Surgeons in Australia and New Zealand.Author BIO page: https://plasticsurgeons.com.au/dr-geoff-barnett/