Background: Diastasis of the rectus abdominis muscles (DRAM) is characterised by thinning and widening of the linea alba, combined with laxity of the ventral abdominal musculature. This causes the midline to “bulge” when intra-abdominal pressure is increased. Plastic surgery treatment for DRAM has been thoroughly evaluated, though general surgical treatments and the efficacy of physiotherapy remain elusive. The aim of this systematic literature review is to evaluate both general surgical and physiotherapeutic treatment options for restoring DRAM in terms of postoperative complications, patient satisfaction, and recurrence rates.
Method: MEDLINE®, Embase, PubMed, PubMed Central®, The cochrane central registry of controlled trials (CENTRAL), Google Scholar, and the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) were searched using the following terms: ‘rectus diastasis’, ‘diastasis recti’, ‘midline’, and ‘abdominal wall’. All clinical studies concerning general surgical or physiotherapeutic treatment of DRAM were eligible for inclusion.
Result: Twenty articles describing 1.691 patients (1.591 surgery/100 physiotherapy) were included. Surgical interventions were classified as plication techniques (313 patients; 254 open/59 laparoscopic), modified hernia repair techniques (68 patients, all open), and combined hernia & DRAM techniques (1.210 patients; 1.149 open/40 hybrid). The overall methodological quality was low. Plication techniques with interrupted sutures and mesh reinforcement were applied most frequently for DRAM repair. Open repairs were performed in 85% of patients. There was no difference in postoperative complications or recurrence rate after laparoscopic or open procedures, or between plication and modified hernia repair techniques. Physiotherapy programmes were unable to reduce IRD in a relaxed state. Though reduction of IRD during muscle contraction was described.
Conclusion: Both plication-based methods and hernia repair methods are used for DRAM repair. Based on the current literature, no clear distinction in recurrence rate, postoperative complications, or patient reported outcomes can be made. Complete resolution of DRAM, measured in a relaxed state, following a physiotherapy training programme is not described in current literature. Physiotherapy can achieve a limited reduction in IRD during muscle contraction, though the impact of this finding on patient satisfaction, cosmesis, or function outcome is unclear.