What is a "stitch" and why does this phenomenon accompany running? Stitches while running are very common. The official name for this painful problem is exercise-related transient abdominal pain. Sometimes it will present as an ache or a cramp, but very often, it feels very sharp. Why does this happen, and what can you do about it? In this article, we provide smart tips to help you prevent stitches when running. Read on to learn more.
Why Does This Happen?
There is no single answer to this question, but there are some theories. Among them are:
1. Your diaphragm (primary breathing muscle) may go into spasm. This can be caused by long term, heavy breathing and rapid expansion and contraction. This overwork can trigger a spasm. If you are new to running and/or don’t know how to control your breathing as you run, you are likely to experience this type of stitch.
2. Jostling about while running may irritate your parietal peritoneum. This is the thin, membranous lining of your pelvic cavities and abdominal wall. Lots of unfamiliar movement can cause pain, as can irritation of the connected phrenic nerve. Just as with diaphragm spasm, this is more likely to happen to new runners and/or runners who are not really in shape.
3. Spinal stress may also cause a stitch in the side. If your spine is irritated or damaged by the movement and impact of running, pain may be carried to your side by attached nerves. If you are an experienced runner and you are in good condition, this is a more likely cause than those mentioned above. See your doctor for x-rays and other diagnostic measures to determine if you are experiencing spinal damage and/or stress.
What Sorts Of Activities Can Cause A Side Stitch?
Of course, running is the prime culprit; however, any activity that involves a lot of movement of the torso can trigger a stitch. This is especially true if you jump right into exercise of any kind without warming up correctly. Pre-workout and pre-run stretch and warm-up are extremely important and can go far toward preventing the development of a side stitch.
Sudden increases in the length and intensity of your workout can cause a stitch even when you warm up correctly. For example, if you are used to running a mile a day and suddenly decide to join a marathon without proper preparation, you are very likely to experience a side stitch.
Note that if you do not include enough core work in your regular workouts, you are likely to experience side stitches during vigorous activity. Having a strong core (transversus abdominus and trunk muscles) will support all of your athletic and everyday activities. Try adding these core exercises to your daily routine:
Can Lifestyle Impact Likelihood Of Getting A Side Stitch?
Generally speaking, if you take good care of yourself, eat right, get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly and correctly, you are less likely to experience side stitches when you run.
In addition to eating correctly, it’s important to note that you should also eat at the right time. If you eat a full meal or consume sugary or fatty foods within a couple of hours pre-run, you are sure to be uncomfortable while running. You are also very likely to experience a side stitch.
The reason for this is that your body will divert resources to your gastrointestinal (GI) tract leaving less resources available for your athletic pursuits. Additionally, if you fill your stomach with food, your diaphragm will have less room to work. This will interfere with effective breathing. When you experience low oxygen levels, you are likely to develop a stitch.
It’s also worth noting that if you tend to take shallow breaths, you are likely to get a stitch. Your diaphragm needs to move freely and fully to deliver oxygen to your working muscles. Without enough oxygen, your ligaments and muscles will be stressed. Those surrounding the diaphragm may be especially overworked, and this can cause a side stitch.
All runners (and indeed all people) should practice belly breathing as a way of keeping the body well oxygenated. When running and exercising, breathe deeply into your belly, through your nose, to a slow count of 5. Exhale fully, through your mouth, to a slow count of 7.
What Should You Do When You Get A Side Stitch?
If you are running, slow your pace to a jog or trot. Focus on your belly breathing, and raise your arms above your head for about half a minute. Slowly lower your arms and then repeat. Keep up your slow, steady pace and arm movements until the stitch subsides.
If this doesn’t work within a reasonable time, or if the stitch gets worse, move to a safe place and be still. Focus on your breathing while pressing on the painful area with your fingers. Press steadily, but press more deeply on the exhale.
As the pain subsides, continue on your path at a walk while pressing and massaging the stitch. Resume running when the pain is resolved.
What Should You Do If A Side Stitch Persists?
If your stitch doesn’t resolve or comes back repeatedly, you should consult your doctor. This is especially true if you experience the pain even when you aren’t exercising or if your abdomen is generally painful. This kind of symptom could indicate a more serious problem, such as damage to your phrenic nerve, internal bleeding or injury, trouble with your gallbladder or pancreas or even a heart attack.
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