It won’t take long as a runner to learn about side stitches! If you don’t know already, side stitches are an intense, stabbing, and cutting pain in the lower part of your rib cage — usually on the right side. These “stitches” will definitely get your attention, can come at any time, and scare some runners away before they get started.
Side Stitch Treatment
One thing is for sure: when you’re running and hit with a side stitch, you’re going to want it to go away as soon as possible!
Here are my top three remedies for side stitches when I’m running:
1. Slow Down Immediately
Don’t wait, and don’t try to run through side stitches. Slow your pace down right away and take deeper breaths. When you slow your pace, you can focus more on breathing as deep as possible (as deep as the stitch allows?) and ease the tension and stress on your diaphragm.
2. Pressing Your Hand Into the Pain
Use either your fingers or palm to press up and inward on the pain. Doing this will help stabilize your internal organs. If your diaphragm is stressing out, massaging it can help relieve the pain from shallow breathing.
3. Changing Your Breathing Pattern
Is your stitch coming when you exhale? If you exhale on the side of the pain, change your breathing so that you exhale on the opposite side of your pain. Here’s how to do that: if your pain is on your right side, make sure you are exhaling when your left foot hits the ground or just the opposite. This technique really works!
What Causes Side Stitches When Running?
To tell you the truth it’s a mystery as to what actually causes a side stitch, but here are a few professional theories:
- A downward pulling on the diaphragm. This first theory does make good sense when it comes to runners stitches — it doesn’t help with swimmers, who also have side stitches. Nevertheless, when you’re running your internal organs are definitely moving up and down. This gives way to the theory that this constant downward force on the diaphragm is the cause of the spasms that reveals as stabbing pain.
- Diaphragm spasms can be caused by an electrolyte imbalance. The theory is that an imbalance of sodium, calcium, or potassium is the culprit. This hypothesis takes into account a known cause of muscle spasms in the hamstring, front of the leg, and in the calf. Keeping foods that high in potassium or even taking potassium supplements will keep these stitches and spasms at bay. Also, try electrolyte sports drinks before your runs.
- Shallow breathing can be a definite cause of side stitches for runners. (it was for me until I started using deep breathing exercises). Most of us only use the top of our lungs for breathing on a regular basis, leaving the bottom part and the diaphragm out of shape and weak. Shallow breathes when running keeps your diaphragm from expanding and relaxing fully. This puts too much stress and tension on the lung diaphragm and causes side stitches.
- Running too often as a beginner. When you first start running there’s a good chance that your body is out of shape, and is simply rebelling against the exertion? So if I were a beginner with side stitches, I would read this post: How Many Days A Week Should You Run, and concentrate on learning breathing techniques.
How To Prevent Stitches When Running
For most runners, the stitches seem to occur less with more experience. That is they get in more running time their body seems to get a grip on what’s going on, and rebel less? However, there are a few preventive measures you can take immediately which include:
- Eating Smarter. Not eating for at least an hour before you run only makes good sense, doesn’t it? You don’t want your stomach laboring to digest food while your running, jogging, or doing almost any exercise. Making sure that the last meal you do eat before a run is primarily complex carbohydrates and high in the electrolytes potassium, calcium and sodium keep you energized.
- Learning to breathe deeply. Taking the time to learn correct breathing techniques with deep breathing exercises will greatly enhance the lungs ability to inhale deeply and exhale fully while running. However, learning how to breathe correctly during a run is bad timing. Practicing these techniques daily when your resting is key to preventing side stitches.
- Strengthening your abdominal core. Improving your core muscle strength provides more support for your large internal organs — lessening the bouncing action. There’s a good chance that if you’re having side stitches while running, you’re also noticing your stomach and internal organs bouncing around. I stopped that bouncing with an exercise ball. Check out this Slide Show from Mayo Clinic to get the most from an exercise ball.
Running is good for the mind, body, and overall health, so you don’t want a side stitch to steal the benefits of running from you. Knowing what causes side stitches, how to prevent them, and what to do when they come makes running the most enjoyable exercise I know about.