Side stitches, or side pains, can be very painful and uncomfortable, and can hinder a perfect running experience almost immediately. The pain can start off slight and increase sharply in a matter of seconds. More than anything, side stitches are a nuisance to runners and may mean you need to stop your workout early!
What is a Stitch?
A side stitch is felt on either the right or left hand side of the body, though it most often occurs on the left side. It resonates in the area right below your lower ribs. The pain can be so intense at times that it can even cause you to stop running completely.
Why do Stitches Occur?
There is no definite medical explanation for why stitches occur, especially during running, but there are several theories. Some researchers claim that stitches are more common with beginner runners, due to the fact that they are more likely to engage in rapid or shallow breathing.
Rapid breathing is believed to not fully engage and relax the diaphragm, thereby causing the ligaments on one side of the body to contract forcefully. Another belief is that the rapid breathing, combined with the jolting of running and exhaling as your right foot touches the ground, puts additional strain on the ligaments near the liver and the diaphragm, which then causes the pain to be felt on the left side of the body.
Other research states that eating a meal within one hour of a run can cause side stitches, as well as drinking sugary or carbonated drinks. The digestive system has not worked the food and drinks completely through the system, and could be the reason for the sharp pains felt on the side. Still other research suggests that if a runner forgoes a proper warm-up before a running session, and starts off running too fast, too soon, he or she will experience sharp side pain.
If you notice that you get side stitches often, first ensure that you are not eating any type of meal, even a small snack, or drinking large amounts of liquid within one to two hours of a run. You can drink a little water, but not too much, and avoid sports and carbonated drinks. Water is always your best choice before a run, especially in hot weather.
Another means of preventing stitches is to practice deep breathing in a rhythmic manner. Smooth, slow, complete breathing cycles will allow you to avoid rapid breathing. While you are breathing in and out fully, you also want to maintain proper posture. The proper posture for running is to have your back straight, not hunched over, your chest up and open for easy breathing, and your arms bent at 90 degree angles at your sides. This posture will ensure that your muscles are not being squeezed, which can cause almost a muscle cramp. If you do happen to experience stitches, press real hard into the side that hurts and breathe deeply. Although it is hard to keep a good posture during this episode, try your best. After slow, even-paced breathing and massaging of the tense muscle, the pain should subside.
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