A healthy abdomen, on the inside as well as the outside, is a hallmark of health.
Well-toned abdominal muscles usually go hand in hand with healthy abdominal organs and vice versa, the body’s internal condition being reflected in its external appearance. The skin, the eyes and the hair are also good examples. When waists become wider than hips and shoulders, our quality of movement is affected and bending and walking become less efficient.
The torso of humans is wrapped in a double spiral of muscles and fascia which converge inwards at the abdominal region and cross the frontal mid line (decussate) and attach to the opposite side creating a waistline which pinches in and is narrower than the girdles above and below.
The shaping of our physique occurs during the fourth week of embryonic life, a process known as folding. Folding draws the left and right sides together which fuse together in the mid line like an anatomical zip. Before folding occurs, we are only a three- layered embryonic disc!
When pressure from inside the abdomen gets too high, the result is abdominal distension. When the abdomen is chronically distended, the layers of the abdominal wall become distended and overstretched, in a way “undoing” the optimal firmness and length of the these muscular and fascial components.
A distended abdominal wall can have a negative effect on one or more of the following:
Abdominal/pelvic organ health
Neck and shoulders
Diastasis of the recti
This can occur in both men and women but is most common in pregnant women, and in particular, multi parous women.
In cases of diastasis, it is important to notice it early. Lie on your back and place a finger in the mid line groove just above your naval. Now lift your head to look at your finger and notice if you can feel a gap which is wider than at a point higher or lower. Maybe check a bit below and above the finger too. If you can feel a gap, this is where the left and right recti have become separated like a broken zip.
What can be done?
In severe cases, surgery is usually required to resolve the problem. In milder cases, careful abdominal exercises can help and in some cases, the condition can heal itself.
When implicated as a cause, addressing breathing mechanics, stiffness in the thoracic spine, any tendency to hold the breath, hips too turned out and of course posture is vital to give the body its best chance of recovery.
As an osteopath, I believe in screening for these issues even before conception when planning for a child. Once the abdomen starts to grow bigger, if there is already diastasis present, it is likely to get worse as the abdomen becomes more distended. So prevention is better than cure.
However, don’t worry!
If you never had these things checked and you did develop the condition during pregnancy, this can be treated and helped with osteopathic treatment and exercise advice. The correct exercise advice, both in terms of choice and also in terms of technique, is essential here, Doing abdominal exercises incorrectly can aggravate the condition, as well as doing abdominal exercises which are inappropriate for this condition.
Tim Goullet has taught at the British College of Osteopathic Medicine for over 20 years and co-authored “Healing Yoga” with Liz Lark. Tim has practised yoga for 15 years and martial arts for 35 years, reaching 5th Dan in Karate. He runs regular workshops on biomechanics, therapeutic exercise and health and also runs an osteopathic clinic at triyoga Chelsea.
Tim Goullet is teaching a workshop on “the abdomen in perspective: using it, losing it and getting it back again” on Sunday 25th November at triyoga Chelsea. For more information or to book, please click here.