Diastasis recti, or abdominal separation, can occur when the abdomen is under extended pressure from a pregnancy, repeated pregnancies or a bloated stomach due to poor diet, for example. The body is then at greater risk for the connective tissue that holds all the muscles in the stomach region together (called fascia) to be stretched out. Common symptoms such as back pain, incontinence and hip pain can be signs of diastasis recti.
Dean shared that physical therapists don’t learn much about the abdominal wall. Through her research and the many resources she uncovered, Dean learned to approach the abdominal wall like any other body part that could sustain injury and put together a concise and effective way to rehabilitate it. Her approach is both functional and practical.
The Tummy Team began addressing prenatal and postpartum women, but soon realized diastasis recti affects both sexes. Dean has worked with 45-year-old men who have struggled with back pain for more than 20 years. At the end of six weeks of therapy, she said, they’re able to be outside playing basketball with their teenage kids.
Practicing alongside Dean is Gillian Sukachevin, MPT who’s trained in holistic chair work as well as the physical therapy that Dean has developed for abdominal wall strengthening. Sharing office space with The Tummy Team is Cloud Chiropractic and Symmetry Massage and Fitness.
“We’ve pulled together great resources so clients have a comprehensive approach when coming to our clinic,” Dean said.
In the four years since The Tummy Team’s inception, its client base has doubled every year and is on track to nearly double again in 2014. This growth caused them to move from their original location at Santé Mama in Vancouver to their Camas office in October 2013.
Last summer, Dean launched an online program that is also growing faster than expected. 50 percent of her business is now conducted online, and she conducts international therapy sessions via Skype with people in Sri Lanka, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. Locally, she has at least two people each week who drive one to two hours for treatment.
To address access, Dean is working on abdominal wall therapy training videos for professionals both within and outside the U.S. as well as continuing education classes for therapists, chiropractors and others in the medical field.
“I’d like to train people to do what we do,” she said. “I’m not really competitive. I think there’s enough hurting people.”
70 percent of The Tummy Team’s business is cash-based. Dean finds it difficult to deal under insurance parameters, saying that she’d rather spend a full hour in a one-on-one therapy session than several short office visits, which is how insurance tends to be set up. They have added Regence BlueCross Blue Shield of Oregon and find them the “easiest one to work with.” Their reimbursement structure is similar to cash-based customers. Dean offered that the average patient treatment program averages $500 for three to five sessions.