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  • APTA, Women's Section Help Clear Up Misinformation in NPR 'Mummy Tummy' Report

    Despite what you may have heard, if the idea of a single, daily, 10-minute exercise being the solution to diastasis recti, aka "mummy tummy," seems too good to be true, that's because it probably is. APTA and its Section on Women's Health, attempted to set the record straight.

    During the August 7 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition, correspondent Michaeleen Doucleff reported on her experiences with a daily 10-minute abdominal exercise whose proponent, Leah Keller, a personal trainer, claims will close separated abdominal muscles often associated with women postpartum. The text version of the story that appeared on NPR's website under the rosy headline: "Flattening The 'Mummy Tummy' With 1 Exercise, 10 Minutes a Day."

    According to the story, Michaeleen reduced the separation in her abdominal muscles from 1.2 inches to .6 inches over 6 weeks, and other women in her exercise group did the same or better through the exercise. NPR reported that the program was supported by a pilot study of 63 women who all saw their diastasis recti fixed after 12 weeks.

    Not so fast, said APTA and the Section on Women's Health (SOWH). After the story aired, SOWH Vice President Carrie J. Pagliano, PT, DPT, contacted APTA with a suggestion that the section and the association point out some of the misinformation in the story. Together, SOWH President Patricia Wolfe, PT, MS, and APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, drafted a letter to NPR describing several elements of the story that were "misleading to women seeking out help for diastasis recti." Pagliano also holds clinical specialist certifications in both orthopaedics and women's health; Dunn is a board-certified specialist in orthopaedics.

    The letter explained that besides the idea that a single short-duration exercise could be the quick-fix solution to diastasis recti, the story also contained factual errors about the kinds of exercises women postpartum should and shouldn't do. In the story, Keller tells these women to "please don't ever again in your life do crossover crunches or bicycle crunches," claiming that "they splay your abs in so many ways."

    In reality, the opposite could be the case, according to Dunn and Wolfe: contracting the rectus abdominis with a curl-up exercise has been shown to decrease muscle separation, while the exercise described in the story—a contraction of just the transverse abdominal muscle—has been associated with increased muscle separation while potentially improving how well the abdominals handle load. "It's not as simple as the '1 muscle-1 exercise approach' proposed by Keller," they write.

    Further, the authors point out, the study on which the program is based has several flaws, including the fact that only 29 of the 63 women in the study were postpartum, no explanation was provided for how diastasis recti was measured initially, and no control group was used.

    "Diastasis recti is not well understood and more research, including standardization of assessment, etiology, and clinical practice guidelines, is required," write Dunn and Wolfe. "In the meantime, a women's health physical therapist trained in the assessment and treatment of patients concerned about diastasis recti can be beneficial both during and after pregnancy to guide participation in exercise."

    In a follow-up report aired August 20, NPR acknowledged that the story received a "huge" response and included quotes from the Dunn and Wolfe letter. In that story, NPR described the criticism it had received, provided more information on the exercise in question, and included descriptions of other exercises that could be helpful, as well as advice from Dunn and Wolfe that "if done properly, the crossover crunches and bicycle crunches would actually help a woman restore the strength to all of her abdominal muscles."

    Comments

    • Thank you APTA @DunnSdunn2 for setting the record straight.

      Posted by Judith deutsch on 8/21/2017 10:14 PM

    • This is a great example of Section expertise being used to "optimize movement and improve the human experience" as well as promoting the physical therapy profession. Wonderful job, Carrie, Pat and Sharon!

      Posted by Janet Peterson on 8/23/2017 5:25 PM

    • Thanks for APTA, SOWH, Sharon, Carrie and Patricia for being a voice of physical therapists! I appreciate their efforts to set the record straight and call the question as well as continue to dialog on diastasis recti and the role of physical therapists and education. Well done and thank you!

      Posted by Becca Sanders Fung, PT, DPT, OCS on 8/23/2017 5:53 PM

    • I applaud the response re: the erroneous information in the "mummy tummy" story presented by NPR. I have long noted the misinformation presented by the M.T. proponents. I especially appreciate the clarification re: the importance of returning to appropriate abdominal mm exercises as part of the recovery from an abdominal mm separation dysfunction. You may not be aware that in years past, the founder of the M.T. technique for treatment has disparaged all other approaches & has emphasized that her program alone was supported by clinical proof. Having said all of that I will throw you a curve ball and tell you that as a women's health treater, I treat women with D.R. regularly and virtually always achieve complete closure with an exercise protocol which takes less than 10 min per day. It may sound preposterous, but I have treated D.R. > 10" in span which have persisted > 1yr post partum and have achieved complete closure with my protocol. I am a clinician and a very busy one. I attempted research confirmation at one point seeking to use diagnostic U.S. performed at the U of M Flint PT program to track D.R. closure progress, however, even though we saw some interesting things as far as we went, my faculty member who was doing the U.S. examinations sort of dropped off the face of the earth. I would love to work with someone who wants to validate my technique outcomes with research...but I will not be doing the research myself as I will be very busy treating pts. Note: I have also seen similar closure results in men and in one case, had a gentleman with a 7 cm (xiphoid to pubis) separation with a duration of at least 10 yrs who completely closed the D.R. in 2 weeks. I like to note his outcome as in resolved in such an expeditious manner...which is certainly, not always the case. Keep an open mind, some times simple approaches work well. Bruce LaBrecque RN, PT

      Posted by Bruce LaBrecque RN, PT on 8/23/2017 10:49 PM

    • Bruce., I would love to know your technique if you are willing to share. Thanks.

      Posted by Elva Strand on 8/24/2017 9:16 AM

    • I am also interested in your technique Bruce. Please consider sharing! Thank you.

      Posted by Gina on 12/1/2017 10:26 AM

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