Diastasis recti

Diastasis recti is a separation of the right and left straight abdominal muscles. This often occurs during pregnancy and usually goes away again of its own accord. Special exercises can be used to prevent and treat diastasis recti.

At a glance

  • Diastasis recti is the separation of the right and left straight abdominal muscles.
  • The separation of the muscles is externally visible in the form of a bulge in the midline of the stomach.
  • The most common causes are pregnancy or being severely overweight (obesity).
  • Doctors can diagnose diastasis recti by feeling the affected area.
  • Treatment generally involves physiotherapy or weight loss. Surgery is not usually necessary.

Note: The information in this article cannot and should not replace a medical consultation and must not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment.

Illustration of abdomen showing vertical sets of muscles either side of the navel diverging to form a gap.

What is diastasis recti?

In medical terms, diastasis recti involves the clear separation of the right and left straight abdominal muscles. 

The area between the two abdominal muscles is called the “linea alba” and is usually one to two centimeters wide. Growing pressure on the connection between the abdominal muscles – usually due to pregnancy or being severely overweight – widens the linea alba and creates a gap. This gap can be physically felt. Externally, the separation of the muscles can be seen in the form of a narrow, vertical bulge. 

If caused by pregnancy, diastasis recti usually goes away of its own accord. Postnatal exercises can help.

What are the symptoms of diastasis recti?

Diastasis recti is typically indicated by a narrow, vertical bulge down the center of the stomach. 

This does not always cause discomfort but slight pain can sometimes be experienced in the affected area of the stomach, the pelvis and the hips. Physical activities can also be restricted.

What causes diastasis recti?

Diastasis recti occurs when the right and left abdominal muscles move apart at the midline of the connective tissue. This often occurs during pregnancy.

Diastasis recti is rarely congenital. It is usually triggered by increased pressure inside the stomach, for example during pregnancy or due to being severely overweight (obesity)

Abdominal surgery can also weaken the stomach muscles and cause diastasis recti.

What factors increase the risk of diastasis recti?

Although the risk is higher during pregnancy, not all pregnant women develop diastasis recti. It is more common in people who are pregnant with twins or slim pregnant women who are expecting a very large child. It is also more prevalent after multiple pregnancies as well as after previous births by cesarean section.

Lifting heavy objects during pregnancy also increases the likelihood of diastasis recti.

Aside from pregnancy, heavy weight gain or rapid weight loss can also increase the risk of diastasis recti. It also occurs more frequently following surgery in the abdominal area.

How can diastasis recti be prevented?

During pregnancy, regular exercises can help to strengthen the abdominal muscles as a targeted form of diastasis recti prevention.

Regular exercises during pregnancy help to strengthen the abdominal muscles and prevent diastasis recti.

These exercises should ideally be done in cooperation with an experienced physiotherapist or midwife.

How is diastasis recti diagnosed?

Diastasis recti can be diagnosed through a simple physical examination by a general practitioner or gynecologist. The doctor will feel the area between the straight abdominal muscles. 

In some circumstances, for example if a patient is severely overweight, an ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) may be necessary to clearly diagnose diastasis recti. 

Important: Although diastasis recti is not generally harmful and does not need to be treated, it is wise to have it checked by a doctor. The doctor can rule out the possibility of a hernia, which could require surgery.

How is diastasis recti treated?

If caused by pregnancy, diastasis recti usually goes away of its own accord. Regression during and after pregnancy can be supported by targeted abdominal muscle exercises. Midwives and physiotherapists can show patients suitable exercises and check whether they are doing them properly.

Pregnancy-related diastasis recti will usually clear up on its own and does not require treatment.

In the case of non-pregnancy-related diastasis recti, losing weight and physiotherapy often help. Strengthening the upper body and abdominal muscles as well as endurance and balance training are particularly useful.

If these measures are to no avail, surgery can be considered in the event of severe pain or extremely pronounced diastasis recti. 

Important: Diastasis recti is classed as a cosmetic problem. As such, surgery is not regarded as medically necessary and statutory health insurance providers do not usually cover the costs.

In cooperation with the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (Institut für Qualität und Wirtschaftlichkeit im Gesundheitswesen – IQWiG).

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