Most cases of Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be resolved by addressing underlying food intolerances, rebalancing the gut microbiome, reducing inflammation and healing a leaky gut wall.
However, in certain individuals this approach may not be enough to restore gut function completely if they have an underlying structural issue called abdominal muscles separation or ‘diastasis rectus abdominus’. Let’s have a look at the link between abdominal muscles separation and IBS.
What is a diastasis rectus abdominus?
This is a separation in the abdominal midline that causes the fascia between the rectus muscles (your ‘six pack’) to stretch. This will cause the abdominal muscles to become misaligned, causing significant dysfunction in all the other core muscles that wrap around the midline.
The separation in the central fascia will very often lead to the typical ‘bulging belly’ that isn’t relieved by weight loss and exercise but is in fact caused by internal organs, most commonly the small and large intestines, protruding through the gap.
The consequent loss of tone and pressure on the intestinal walls will affect the quality of the peristaltic movement that keeps our intestines healthy. Peristaltic waves are circular constrictions in the bowel wall that help mix food with enzymes in the small intestine as well as move the stool along in the colon.
A loss of muscle tone will also impact the ‘housekeeping’ peristaltic waves – specific contractions called the motor migrating complex whose function is to clear bacteria, food debris and sloughed off intestinal wall cells in a fasting state.
An impairment in this function can lead to bacterial overgrowth both in the colon and small intestine. Simply addressing the overgrowth of bacteria – whether through antimicrobial herbs or antibiotics – without fixing the underlying loss of muscle tone will yield very short-lived results.
How do I know if I have a diastasis?
Having had multiple pregnancies puts you at high risk of developing a diastasis due to the increased abdominal pressure in the second and third trimesters. There is good evidence that for most women a diastasis developed in pregnancy only closes partially by six months after the birth (1).
This is a significant statistic and would go a long way to explain why most women develop some form of digestive issue, urinary incontinence and back pain that doesn’t improve in the post-partum period.
While pre-pregnancy exercise confers protection against the development of a diastasis, strenuous exercise within two months of giving birth increases the risk of developing the condition by placing extra strain on the midline.
This confers scientific weight to the traditional asian habit of bed rest for up to 2 months after the birth. The new mother’s abdomen is bound in a corset-like fashion to encourage the realignment of the abdominal muscles, prevent hernias and help the internal organs to go back into their proper shape.
Signs and symptoms of a diastasis
- Back pain
- Bulging belly that isn’t improved by weight loss or exercise
- Bloating/digestive issues/IBS
- Urinary incontinence
- Interstitial cystitis
- None of the above. A diastasis can be completely silent and not trigger any noticeable symptoms.
You can develop a diastasis even if you haven’t had children. Genetics, poor core strength, incorrect posture and heavy weight lifting with poor body mechanics can all cause the abdominal muscles to separate.
You can find out if you have a diastasis by lying on your back and measuring the width, in fingers, between the edges of the rectus abdomini muscles. You can read detailed instructions on how to do this here.
WHAT IS THE BEST TREATMENT FOR A DIASTASIS?
While some women resort to abdominal surgery to ‘tie’ the separated muscles, the safest, cheapest and best solution involves following a rehabilitation program called the Tupler Technique that combines diastasis-specific exercises and wearing a splint to bring together the two sides of the diastasis.
The program is extremely effective at closing all diastasis – even very large ones in 2-3 months.