What is this thing called our Core?

January 18, 2013 in Abdominals, Diastasis Recti, Exercise, Post Partum

What is this thing called our Core?

Our body is an amazing machine.  What keeps it strong and allows us to move and do all sorts of activities is having strong core muscles.  Core strengthening is all a buzz these days and rightfully so because without good strength in our core muscles our performance can be diminished and can lead to back pains and problems.

So what is our Core?

Our core is made up of 3 groups of muscles, the abdominal, the pelvic floor and the multifidi muscles of the back.  While the other two are important I’m going to focus in on the abdominals and how certain things can really put us in danger of weakening these muscles.

The abdominal muscles 

The abdominal muscles are responsible for all of the movements in our trunk and consist of three muscle layers, the rectus, obliques and the transverse. The most superficial layer, the Rectus abdominus, otherwise known as the “Six-pack” muscle, helps us to bend forward or sit up from lying down. The middle layer of the abdominal muscles includes the Internal and External Obliques which helps us to twist.   The deepest and most important layer, the Transverse abdominus, helps to compress the abdomen in and is part of our core muscles to stabilize the spine and pelvis.

Do you ever see a bulge in your abdomen when you go to sit up from lying?  

If you do, then you have a Diastasis Recti.  That is a separation of the six pack abdominal muscle known as the Rectus abdominus.  The rectus abdominus muscle has two sets of muscle fibers that run up and down from the sternum, or chest plate, down to the pubic bone. They are separated by a connective tissue called the linea alba. These muscle bellies can become separated and the connective tissue between them stretched thin with pregnancy, increased pressures in your abdomen or by just having a big belly.   The muscle bellies get forced out to the side with the increased pressures.  Also, activities with forward forceful movements as in coughing, sneezing, laughing, or doing sit ups incorrectly can create a diastasis or make an already existing one worse.

So how do you know if you have a separation of the recti muscles, or a diastasis recti? 

You will know if you have one if you are lying down on your back and you place your fingers perpendicular to the rectus muscles, pointing down toward your spine in your belly button. You need to be pushing down into the tissue and not just have your fingers resting on the belly.  When you lift your head any fingers that fill the space between the two muscle fibers of the rectus abdominus let’s you know you have a separation. One to two fingers width separation is considered normal.  However you also need to address the connective tissue and see how deep you can poke down before you feel the connective tissue. Normal is very shallow.  Anything past your first knuckle needs some attention.  You want to assess this in three places, at the belly button, 2 inches above and then 2 inched below.  It is normal to have different measurements in all three areas.

Also another key sign you have a separation is when you lift your head does anything pop forward in the midline around your belly button?  That bulge is actually your colon protruding out.  There are certain things we do like getting in and out of bed, doing abdominal crunches, and playing golf and tennis that can make this separation worse.

Do you still have a “pooch” from being pregnant?

It doesn’t matter how old your baby is, our stomachs can still be stretched out from carrying the baby.  The transverse muscle runs like a corset from our spine around the front and inserts in the rectus sheath in front.  If you haven’t restrengthened this muscle it will continue to stay stretched out.  Granted, after the baby left your womb the transverse muscle did come back in somewhat but not to where it was prior to pregnancy.  There are some exercises you need to learn to help restrengthen this transverse muscle and we can show you how.  Regular sit-ups, Pilates and yoga do not address this muscle like it needs to be to help you lose your “pooch” for good.

At Intuitive Hands Physical Therapy we teach classes in the Boulder/Denver area and also have a video you can purchase that addresses all the issues with your abdomen.  You can lose inches and have a flatter belly by learning how to do two simple abdominal exercises that you can do anytime and anywhere.  There is a 4 step program that helps heal your diastasis recti so you can keep your organs in place and protect your back from injury.  We can also teach this class online via Skype.  For more information and to register for a class or purchase the video, click here.