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

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Are your abs split after pregnancy? Chances are that YES, they may very well be, especially if you’ve been struggling with a worsening abdominal bulge or back pain and muscle weakness after giving birth.

How to tell if your abs were split or torn during pregnancy:  Diastasis Recti

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  • You may have thought that if you kept in shape DURING your pregnancy, all would be well after – only to be dismayed at how many changes your body went through to have a baby (or babies).

After pregnancy or after finishing your family, you might be eager to get your post-baby body back to feel great within your skin again and stop hiding behind baggy clothing.

  • But Abdominal Muscles can be torn, split and damaged curing Pregnancy and Delivery.
  • The condition of torn abs or split abdominal muscles is called diastasis recti.

There are some at-home ‘tests’ or self-assessments that can help you guess if your abs were split after pregnancy and/or after delivering a baby.

But the best way is to see a doctor or a Surgeon for a proper evaluation, especially if you have excess skin folds or sagging belly skin.

  • A professional consultation will help you know what’s really wrong if you’re suffering from back pain or a lack of strength (or where bulges in the belly area refuse to yield to abdominal strengthening exercises or pilates).
  • But read more below about how to pre-assess if you might have the condition.
  • The basic question to ask yourself is: what happened to your ab area after pregnancy?
  • Does it go flat when you lose weight and exercise, or does it bulge out and actually worsen with pilates?
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Figuring out if your abdominal muscles were damaged during pregnancy is something our Plastic Surgeons assess during an Abdominoplasty Surgery consultation. Phone (03) 8849 1444 to discuss the condition and your surgical options to restore your abdominal strength, core muscles and a flatter tummy again after having a baby.

  • Many Mums remain unfamiliar with the condition of torn abs after pregnancy.
  • Many also think it’s their fault they can’t get their belly flat again; when in reality, diastasis recti makes that nearly impossible without specific surgical help.

Can exercise fix torn abs after pregnancy?

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  • Cardio, strength training, yoga and certain ab exercises – ideally under the direction of a physio or fitness trainer – can be a great place to start if the condition of diastasis recti is somewhat mild.
  • But not all abdominal exercises are appropriate for this condition. And if you’ve given birth to more than one child, it is very likely you’ll have torn abs after pregnancy.
  • Plus, some exercises can make the belly bulges worse (such as crunches or improperly performed abdominal exercises). And in fact, that’s one way to tell you may have been affected by torn abs after having babies.

Can you find out, on your own, if you have split abs (torn ab muscles) after pregnancy?

Self assessment for the condition of Diastasis Recti (torn abs/split abdominal muscles) is a 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 something entirely different that is causing the bulge.

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  • Certainly after pregnancy you need to allow an adequate period of time for your body to adjust.
  • Before you should assess the situation, give it some time after the birth.
  • That can take several months to up to a year or two (pregnancy is a HUGE body changing event).

But what if after exercising for many months and eating healthy meals, your body still isn’t anywhere near the same condition that it was before you had your baby or babies?

Then book in for an assessment of whether or not you have Diastasis Recti.

Many women have it, along with mild urinary incontinence and back pain, but they don’t even recognise they have this condition. They mistakenly assume their back hurts from breast feeding or picking up and carrying heavy children, or pushing a stroller or baby car seat into and out of the car.

Diastasis Recti: Abdominal Separation and Torn Abs after Pregnancy

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 diastasis recti or “split abs” – also known as abdominal separation.

If you’ve had more than one child or twins, you are even more likely to have diastasis recti.  So it’s an incredibly common – and commonly frustrating – condition to be left with as part of your post-pregnancy legacy.

Read the latest press release on women’s health and incontinence after pregnancy and recent research into abdominoplasty and why some Plastic Surgeons and women are adamant it should be covered by medicare in view of related health costs of damage to the abs and body during pregnancy.

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Diastasis Recti and split abdominal muscles can even be found in men and babies, although this is less common than in women who have had children or other abdominal trauma.

Having Split Abs is something that many women either end up accepting OR choosing to have surgery to repair (typically a Tummy Tuck).  And for people who care about how they look after pregnancy and want a firmer, tighter belly area; Abdominoplasty surgery can be life changing.  For more information, please phone us on (03) 8849 1444 to request a copy of our Free Downloadable Guide to Tummy Tuck Surgery.

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.
  • This greatly reduces the strength of the core abdominal area, leading to back pain and weakness as well as incontinence in many women.

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.

In addition to appearance, skin infection and clothing concerns, it can also throw off muscle balance.

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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.

Read the PRESS RELEASE: Torn Abs and Incontinence after pregnancy – what the latest research shows (2018 ASAPS).


How to tell if you have separated abdominal muscles (diastasis recti) from Pregnancy or Delivery

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

  • A visible or palpable 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.
  • You may also have other pronounced symptoms if you also have an abdominal hernia.

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In addition to three ways to tell if you have muscle separation, there is a simple test you can perform at home:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, and the soles of your feet on the floor
  • Place one hand behind your head, and the other hand on your abdomen, with your fingertips across your stomach at the level of your belly button
  • With your abdominal wall relaxed, gently press your fingertips into your stomach
  • Roll your upper body off the floor into a “crunch” position making sure that your ribcage moves closer to your pelvis
  • Move your fingertips back and forth across your midline, feeling for the right and left sides of your abdominal muscle.
  • Feel (test) 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.

Torn or Separated Abdominal Muscles: Who is prone to diastasis recti?

It seems that nearly anyone who’s had more than one child is highly likely to have torn abdominal muslces or diastasis recti.

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

Exercising to Push the Abdominal Muscles Back Together

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 look even worse.

These include properly performed abdominal exercises, including many Pilates moves – but not all abdominal exercises will be right for you and some can make the separation more pronounced.

Exercises for Diastasis Recti (Torn or Separated Abdominal Muscles)

Exercises can tighten the belly somewhat but exercises cannot, on their own, repair and rejoin torn abdominal muscles.

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Exercises cannot undo the damage to the abdominal muscles that large birth-weight babies – or multiple pregnancies – have done to your abdominal area.

So despite all of the exercises you do, you may never again have a tummy that doesn’t significantly protrude.

And along with post-pregnancy hormonal changes and an altered Body Mass Index (BMI), (read this blog on “Weight and BMI targets“) you’ll probably also have areas of your body that have accumulated body fat or uneven body fat distribution – which can make the appearance of a bulging belly even worse.

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See your Physician, Obstetrician/Gynaecologist or Plastic Surgeon if you suspect your abdominal area has suffered notable muscle damage during pregnancy

Your GP, Obstetrician or Surgeon will be able to confirm if you have separated abdominal muscles.

Early recovery from muscle-tears 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.

diastasis recti, separated abdominal muscles can occur during pregnancy

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.

So, what exercises should you do after pregnancy if you have torn ‘abdo’ 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 (which explains why pilates instructors and physiotherapists are so adamant about keeping your navel pulled in during abdominal exercises).


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Diastasis Recti Repair Surgery to repair torn abs

Tummy Tuck & Abdominal Muscle Repair or Belt Lipectomy (Types of Abdominoplasty by a Plastic, Cosmetic & Reconstructive Surgeon)

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.


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.

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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.

 

Read more information on Tummy Tucks:

Tummy Tuck Melbourne