Mind the Gap: Diastasis Recti Abdominis and What We Don’t Know: Part I

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Joanna Hess, PT, DPT, PRC, WCS

Summer holidays are approaching. You’re lounging at the beach and feeling quite proud of the ruffled swimsuit that guards the battle marks of the mom bod—the wrinkly and poochy belly. On the horizon, a woman in string bikini framing her flat tummy joins the four children sitting next to you. She must be their nanny, or maybe the children were adopted, or she probably had a surrogate. But after a short conversation, she reveals that in fact is the biological mother of these children and that she carried to full term. And when you awkwardly compliment her on the restoration of her college-era body, she nonchalantly shrugs and says, “Genetics? Maybe the coconut oil that we brought back from Bali?”

As the power of airbrushed social media images expand, the Cinderella stories of mummy tummy to model abs give hope to the many moms scrolling mindlessly on our phones passing the wee hours of childcare. These stories are powerful and inspiring, but do not reflect most of our situations, nor answer many elusive questions about diastasis recti abdominus.

What is Diastasis recti abdominis and why do we care?

Diastais recti abominis (DRA) is the excessive separation between the two sides of the rectus abdominis (the six pack muscle), which creates a pooching of the belly, particularly with difficult tasks. For this blog, the background information focuses on pregnancy related DRA while the application of the information can be used for any one with DRA. During the third trimester 100% of women have a DRA, defined as a separation >2 cm below the umbilicus (1). One answer to why we care about DRA is that we want our stomachs to look normal if not flat. The wrinkly skin stomach has not reached mass popularity on the runways. Another reason we care is because DRA has been assumed to predispose a long term sequelae of breakdown in the body. The cosmetic appearance associated with DRA improves as the inter-recti distance (IRD), the width between the bellies of the rectus abdominis, decreases.

As physical therapists, we screen for DRA in order to gain a larger understanding of how the body is working together. Many of us assume that the lack of stability in the front of the body will lead to compensations in other parts of the body—primarily the diaphragm, pelvic floor, and back. Dysfunction in these areas have been documented to be higher during pregnancy and the post-partum period (2). Physical therapists regularly address DRA when patients present with low back pain (LBP), pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic pain, and urinary incontinence (3). A couple of studies looking at post-partum women seeking medical care for abdominal pain and pelvic floor dysfunction show a higher incidence of DRA in this populations (4,5). However, this is not to say that the DRA causes or predicts these conditions.

In recent prospective studies using ultrasound assessment, the assumption that DRA correlates to pelvic floor dysfunction and low back pain (LBP) is challenged. The findings suggest no relationship but even a possible protective mechanism of DRA during pregnancy, with no difference in LBP symptoms at one year postpartum regardless of DRA status. Of course, this is a statement of generalization to a study population and does not reflect the outliers, individual predispositions and presentation.

DRA During Pregnancy

No differences were found in pelvic floor function or in urinary incontinence between women regardless of DRA status, during or after pregnancy. Women presenting with DRA in their 2nd trimester were more likely to have higher vaginal resting pressures, strong pelvic floor muscles strength, and better endurance of pelvic floor muscles. The set of women with 2nd trimester DRA had lower BMI before pregnancy and during pregnancy with trend increased general physical activity (6)

DRA Post-Partum

Interestingly, women who at 6 weeks postpartum did not have a DRA were more likely to have a pelvic organ prolapse > Stage 2 (6). DRA status (none or mild) had no relationship with low back pain at 6 months (1) and 12 months postpartum (7). This corroborates another study showing no difference for DRA in women reporting LBP and that severity of DRA does not predict intensity of LBP when present (5). Heavy lifting >20x/week was shown to be a risk factor for postpartum DRA, but not age, pre-pregnancy BMI, 2nd trimester BMI, weight gain, caesarean or vaginal delivery, abdominal circumference at 35 weeks, hypermobility (p – 0.06), cardio and strength exercise, general abdominal and pelvic floor exercise (1). From the research available, we cannot predict from a group of postpartum women with DRA who will have symptoms that affect their daily living.

Looking a Little Deeper at Diastasis Recti Abdominis

As assumptions about DRA and its relationship to long term dysfunction start to shift, what is important to identify in a DRA presentation is also changing. The literature and clinical practice related to DRA mainly looks at the IRD, or the separation between the right and left muscle bellies of the rectus abdominis However, the focus on the widening of the linea alba may be less important than the ability of the linea alba to transfer forces and contribute to the stability of the abdominal muscles (8). A wide linea alba that holds tension and stabilizes the front of the abdomen with increased intra-abdominal pressures through functional task may be more desirable than a narrow linea alba with distortions that loses force and allows abdominal pressure to push forward through functional task. A pulled-apart and taut rubber band hold tension better than a relaxed and crumpled band. The width and depth of the linea alba need to be contextualized within the individual’s posture, daily movement, and functional core adaptability. The literature has yet to identify subgroups that would likely explain why some people have DRA that self-resolve and among those who don’t, why it impacts cosmetics and function in some people and not in others, why it seems to be a protective mechanism for some pelvic floor and low back conditions and exacerbating in others.

The linea alba is often connected to the rectus abdominis because of the focus of the IRD as a marker of DRA. However, the linea alba actually is the anatomical and functional intersection of all the abdominal muscles—the rectus abdominis, the internal and external obliques, and transverse abdominis, which is seen at a microscopic level with different angles of fibers in the linea alba. In a cadaver study looking at the collagen of the linea alba without DRA, previously pregnant women had thinner linea alba, but greater widths. Females who were previously pregnant had higher ratio transverse to oblique fibers—60% for females and 37.5% for males. The female cadaver that had never been pregnant had infraumbilical fibers more similar to males (9). The small size of this study limits its application, but perhaps an increase of transverse abdominis muscle activity in the lower abdominals is represented in the higher number fibers, and that this adapted activity resolved the DRA for these women.

Hormones may possibly play a role of the development of DRA for some women, but because DRA persist well after post-partum hormones return to normal. In men, hormones are unlikely to be the primary driving cause of persistent DRAs. Women who are breastfeeding do have a higher relationship with unresolved DRA until breastfeeding is concluded (5). However, no research has been conducted on this relationship and may add to another subgroup to explain the variance of women who spontaneously resolve and others who never resolved their DRAs.

 

Joanna is a treating therapist at our downtown location. Stay tuned for the next installment on this topic, Mind the Gap Part II: Diastasis Recti Abdominis: What we Can do About it.

To call and make an appointment with our expert PTs call:

212- 354- 2622 (Midtown)

212-267-0240 ( Downtown)

 

References:

1. da Mota PG, Pascoal AG, Carita AI, Bø K. Prevalence and risk factors of diastasis recti abdominis from late pregnancy to 6 months postpartum, and relationship with lumbo-pelvic pain. Manual therapy. 2015 Feb 1; 20(1):200-5.

2. Lee DG, Lee LJ, McLaughlin L. Stability, continence and breathing: the role of fascia following pregnancy and delivery. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies. 2008 Oct 1; 12(4):333-48.

3. Keeler J, Albrecht M, Eberhardt L, Horn L, Donnelly C, Lowe D. Diastasis recti abdominis: a survey of women’s health specialists for current physical therapy clinical practice for postpartum women. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2012 Sep 1; 36

4. Spitznagle TM, Leong FC, Van Dillen LR. Prevalence of diastasis recti abdominis in a urogynecological patient population. International Urogynecology Journal. 2007 Mar 1; 18(3):321-8

5. Parker MA, Millar LA, Dugan SA. Diastasis Rectus Abdominis and Lumbo‐Pelvic Pain and Dysfunction‐Are They Related?. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2009 Jul 1; 33(2):15-22.

6. Bø K, Hilde G, Tennfjord MK, Sperstad JB, Engh ME. Pelvic floor muscle function, pelvic floor dysfunction and diastasis recti abdominis: Prospective cohort study. Neurourology and urodynamics. 2017 Mar 1; 36(3):716-21.

7. Sperstad JB, Tennfjord MK, Hilde G, Ellström-Engh M, Bø K. Diastasis recti abdominis during pregnancy and 12 months after childbirth: prevalence, risk factors and report of lumbopelvic pain. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Jun 20:bjsports-2016.

8. Lee D, Hodges PW. Behavior of the linea alba during a curl-up task in diastasis rectus abdominis: an observational study. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 2016 Jul; 46(7):580-9.

9. Axer H, Keyserlingk DG, Prescher A. Collagen fibers in linea alba and rectus sheaths: II. Variability and biomechanical aspects. Journal of Surgical Research. 2001 Apr 1; 96(2):239-45.

10. Liaw LJ, Hsu MJ, Liao CF, Liu MF, Hsu AT. The relationships between inter-recti distance measured by ultrasound imaging and abdominal muscle function in postpartum women: a 6-month follow-up study. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 2011 July.

11. Coldron Y, Stokes MJ, Newham DJ, Cook K. Postpartum characteristics of rectus abdominis on ultrasound imaging. Manual therapy. 2008 Apr 1;13(2):112-21.

12. Boissonnault JS, Blaschak MJ. Incidence of diastasis recti abdominis during the childbearing year. Physical therapy. 1988; 68(7):1082-6

13. Chiarello CM, Falzone LA, McCaslin KE, Patel MN, Ulery KR. The effects of an exercise program on diastasis recti abdominis in pregnant women. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2005 Apr 1; 29(1):11-6.

14. Benjamin DR, Van de Water AT, Peiris CL. Effects of exercise on diastasis of the rectus abdominis muscle in the antenatal and postnatal periods: a systematic review. Physiotherapy. 2014 Mar 1; 100(1):1-8.

15. Pascoal AG, Dionisio S, Cordeiro F, Mota P. Inter-rectus distance in postpartum women can be reduced by isometric contraction of the abdominal muscles: a preliminary case–control study. Physiotherapy. 2014 Dec 1; 100(4):344-8.

16. Sancho MF, Pascoal AG, Mota P, Bø K. Abdominal exercises affect inter-rectus distance in postpartum women: a two-dimensional ultrasound study. Physiotherapy. 2015 Sep 1; 101(3):286-91.

17. Litos K. Progressive therapeutic exercise program for successful treatment of a postpartum woman with a severe diastasis recti abdominis. Journal of Women’s Health Physical Therapy. 2014; 38(2):58-73.

18. Gillard S, Ryan CG, Stokes M, Warner M, Dixon J. Effects of posture and anatomical location on inter-recti distance measured using ultrasound imaging in parous women. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice. 2018 Apr 1; 34:1-7.

19. Kirk B, Elliott-Burke T. The Effect of Visceral Manipulation on Diastasis Recti Abdominis (DRA): A Case Series.

The Special Care Needs of the LGBTQ+ Community

Happy Pride Month!!!!

We are reposting an old post broadly discussing the LGBTQ+ community, with special focus on transgender individuals. Please keep checking back as we continue to discuss specific issues relating to the care of the LGBTQ+ community.  

Amy Stein PT, DPT and Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

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Who are LGBTQ+ individuals?

At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, we have been meeting and studying with experts about the LGBTQ + community. LGBTQ+ refers to individuals who do not identify as heterosexual or do not identify as cis- gendered (although these two categories are not mutually exclusive). Cis-gender means you identify with the genital anatomy you were born with. People who belong to the LGBTQ+ community can be cis-gendered (meaning they identify with the genital anatomy that they were born with) and be gay/lesbian/ bisexual/ questioning etc.  They can be trans-gender and heterosexual or some combination thereof. Basically LGBTQ+ is a term that includes people who are not both cis-gender and heterosexual. LGBTQ+ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, and other individuals.  

Never Assume. Listen, Ask.

We were excited to understand and learn more about how we can help, specifically with patients experiencing pain or weakness in the pelvic floor. We met with an LGBTQ + advocate and he recommended the following when it comes to treating patients both within and outside the LGBTQ+ community.  First rule of thumb:  with all patients, don’t assume and be open to any questions or discussion. Ask if your patient would like you to stay away from certain terms regarding their anatomy, as well as their preferred gender pronoun. Use language that they want us to use.

 As with all patients, we need to use a biopsychosocial approach. With any patient, Richard Green at Bellevue hospital says that we always want to know exactly what is going on with our patient. We must subjectively understand why they are visiting us.  Has there been trauma, surgery, complications, or anything that has worsened their symptoms? What hormones and medications are they on? Don’t single anyone out. These questions are important for every patient.  

We want to get the medical and surgical history during or prior to the visit. There is no standard one surgical procedure or hormonal protocol in trans care. Hormones, either testosterone, estrogen, lupron, puberty blocking, testosterone suppressing can be used in many patients, but are also used specifically to aid in transition in transgender patients. Many hormones have consequences or side effects and our patients need be educated on the various options.  There is research on hormones and bodily changes, however there is no good research on how the hormones affect the pelvic region. Anti-estrogen hormones may result in vaginal drying and atrophy, more tissue tearing, and pain with penetration.  Endometriosis can be worsened with testosterone hormones.  Hormones can be administered via injection, pellets, patches, creams, gels, and pill form.  It’s important to realize side effects and risks of hormones for each patient. Dosage depends on body type, weight, previous surgeries, etc.  Hormone therapy can be given by a primary care provider or endocrinologist; however, many are not familiar with a specific protocol but at the same time each person may have different goals.  Progression of hormones can be monitored for each patient and according to patients wants and needs.  

For those who opt for surgical transition, it can result in pelvic pain and or weakness as organs are moved and or removed. Like we mentioned before, there is no one surgical protocol and it will vary from surgeon to surgeon, from changes in hormones from the removal of certain organs.  Knowing what tissues have been removed or moved and or where scar tissue could have been formed, is important to addressing a patient’s complaints. Also, it’s important to ask if the patient was having these symptoms or pain prior to any of the surgeries or hormonal medications. Surgical transition can take a long time with various surgeries and various symptoms that arise throughout. Some issues that  can occur are fistulas or fissures and when dealing with nerve implants there could be nerve damage and restrictions.

 

How is care for the LGBTQ+ community funded and regulated?

Medical coverage for the LGBTQ + community is non-regulated and different in each state. The Affordable Care Act, (ACA) covers some therapies and surgeries. You can try to appeal with each insurance which have their own policies on gender affirming care.

How can physical therapy help?

At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, we specialize in abdomino-pelvic disorders, including pain, weakness, bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction.  We also specialize in orthopedics and functional manual therapy.  We treat the LGBTQ+ community and we welcome any questions at desk@beyondbasicspt.com or call 212-354-2622. We are happy to help and look forward to hearing from you!
Resources: Center of excellence for transgender health.

WPATH center for care Endocrine Society

  • speaks on hormone therapy (however some information may be out of date).

 Adolescent Health Center

Pilates Tip: Supine Toe Taps

Kierstin Elliot, Pilates Instructor, BBPT

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Exercise: Supine Toe Taps

Set up: Lying on back, imprint spine, legs in table top, arms resting by sides.

Execution: Inhale to start, exhale to hinge right leg down towards floor (about 45 degrees from hip) and then return back to table top. Repeat on left side, alternating for 8-10 reps. Start with minimal range of motion and then increase once you feel more confident with the exercise.

Focus: Lower abs. It’s imperative to go slowly with this exercise to ensure isolation of the abdomen. Focus on turning off the quads and hip flexors ( the muscles in the front of the legs) as they will want to take over. In addition, be careful that your pelvis doesn’t tip sideways or your back doesn’t arch. Initiate from the lowers abs.

Importance: One of the best exercises for lower abdominal strengthening. This exercise also enhances your ability to stabilize the pelvis and lower back, isolate lower abs, and hone in on the mind/body connection.

Modifications: For a challenge, try keeping legs together. Allow yourself to hinge downward for 4 seconds and then back up to table top for 4 seconds. To make it more accessible, try placing an inflatable cushion or disk under your sacrum. This prop will add increased awareness to lower back/pelvis region as well as adding support.

Beyond Basics is Visting Brooklyn!!!!

Brooklyn

 

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Have you got pelvic floor questions? Have you desperately wanted to go to one of our PH101 classes, but can’t swing 7pm in midtown in the middle of the week? Well, I have great news and GREATER news. I know, right… how much great news can you handle? The first bit of awesome, is that Beyond Basics’ Physical Therapists’, Dr. Fiona McMahon and Dr. Sarah Paplanus are hosting a forum and open discussion on pelvic floor health and treatment on Saturday, April 28th at The Floor on Atlantic (310 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn) at 12 noon. We will be there to explain the ins and outs of the pelvic floor, what can go wrong with it, and best yet, how you can heal it. It is a must go to event. RSVP here. Also, it’s FREE!

So what’s the other news, Fiona? Well, it’s that although we are not in Brooklyn, we have opened another office just across the river from Brooklyn, Beyond Basics Physical Therapy Downtown. In enlarging our footprint we hope to expand access and convenience to patients living downtown and in Brooklyn. We will be hosting a Grand Opening and 15 year anniversary celebration at our new location: 156 William St, Suite 800 New York, NY 10038 on Thursday, April, 26th from 4pm – 7pm. Come and enjoy food, drinks and meet our Physical Therapists. RSVP here.

 

 

Pelvic Health 101 is back and with BRAND NEW COURSES

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Our Pelvic Health 101 courses are back! For those of you not in the know about our courses, they are informational sessions provided by top experts in the field of pelvic pain and pelvic function. These courses allow you to dive more deeply into topics such as bowel, bladder and sexual function and dysfunction, pelvic and genital pain, childbirth, diet, issues with kiddos, and much more.

This year we added a Gent’s Only Session to be a companion to our Ladies only session to help answer some of the specific questions you may have about pelvic floor function as it relates to sexual health, bladder and bowel health, as well as pain.

Our first class is “PH101: Something’s Wrong with my What?”, where our own Stephanie Stamas,will be going through the basics of anatomy of the pelvic floor, what can go wrong and how we can fix it. Our first class is on March 7th at 7pm. Register here: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com, to reserve your spot. Our classes are extremely popular so make sure you register well ahead of time.

Check out

Location:

110 East 42nd St, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Check out all the upcoming classes here:

Pelvic Health 101 Spring 2018 (2)

Pilates Versus Yoga

Pilates vs. Yoga Kierstin Elliott, Certified in Stott Pilates

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As a pilates instructor, I am often asked the question, “How is pilates different from yoga?” Although there are many similarities between the two practices, such as developing strength and flexibility, the differences are quite substantial.

Yoga is an ancient practice that has long been established throughout Indian culture. One major factor that sets yoga apart from pilates is the spiritual element. For many, yoga promotes an environment of self awareness in mind, body, and spirit. Although there are various styles of yoga, ranging from the lively flow of Vinyasa to the meditative holds of Yin, you have the freedom to explore and evolve the limitations of your body and mind within the practice.

Pilates is a more recent method of movement created by Joseph Pilates as a form of rehabilitation and was introduced to the States in 1920. Pilates wanted to create a practice in which injured soldiers could quickly rehab with bio-mechanics. Therefore, the apparatus’ used in the practice such as the Cadillac and Reformer, closely resemble hospital beds with springs, pulleys, and slings. Pilates is focused primarily on restoring the natural curves of the spine using these 8 founding principles: breath, concentration, control, centering, flow, alignment, precision and relaxation.

Both pilates and yoga offer numerous health benefits for the mind and body in addition to complimenting each other quite well. If you are looking for a more spiritual or meditative connection through movement, yoga is the choice for you. If you are looking to strengthen your core and improve posture, pilates will be right up your alley. Give them both a try and see what makes the most sense for your body. Finding a practice that not only feels good, but one that you also enjoy, is important for maintaining consistency and progress. Only with commitment and dedication to your practice will you discover the stronger, healthier, and happier version of you!

 

kierstinbbpt_smKierstin Elliot currently teaches Pilates at Beyond Basics Physical, Flex, Kinespirit, and offers in home training. Call the office at Beyond Basics at 212-354-2622 for more information on Kierstin!

Why seek out a physical therapist with advanced orthopedic training? The case for CFMT and OCS

Pelvic 3By: Kaitlyn Parrotte, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT

If you have perused our website, you might have noticed that here at Beyond Basics, we have many physical therapists who have a CFMT certification, or are in the process of completing one. Now the question lies, what is a CFMT? How is this approach unique? How can this approach be of benefit to me?

The acronym CFMT stands for Certified Functional Manual Therapist. This certification is through the Institute of Physical Art (IPA), which is an organization founded by two physical therapists, Gregg and Vicky Johnson.

With the CFMT approach, we evaluate and treat every individual’s mechanical capacity (how your tissues and joints move), neuromuscular function (how your system stabilizes itself, and the coordination of muscle activation), and motor control (how an individual moves and performs daily tasks). Furthermore, we assess and retrain how these three individual components interact to ensure each person can return to the tasks/activities they need and love to do.

What this means is, when a new patient walks through our door, we don’t just focus on one small area, such as only the knee in which you report pain. Instead, we will look at the big picture by assessing your strength, amount of limb and segmental motion available to you, posture and alignment, and movement, which can be as simple as getting out of a chair, or a higher level activity such as running, weight lifting or other sport-related activity. This will allow us to get a thorough impression of what impairments you might have, and will help us determine what the cause of your symptoms and functional limitations is (what is the driver?). From here we can figure out the most effective approach to your treatment, and will apply progressive interventions that help to ensure continued benefits from each session. We have found that this approach commonly gets you back to your activity or sport faster!

Now you may be asking yourself, “Well this sounds interesting, but why does it matter?” Looking at the whole person and treating your system overall, allows us to make lasting changes, not only to a specific body part that is causing problems for you, but also with your habits of how you hold yourself and move. By becoming more aware of your body and moving with more efficiency, you will find day-to-day activities, and even sporting activities, are easier for you to perform. Furthermore, and most importantly, if you are able to move and live in a more efficient way, you are decreasing the risk of future injury.

So whether you are experiencing incontinence, pelvic pain, low back pain, or a shoulder injury, having a knowledgeable therapist work with you, can make a significant impact on your function and quality of life.