We’ve all been there. You’re running along, feeling great (probably even powering towards a shiny new PB), when all of a sudden you get a sharp pain in your side. It feels like someone is stabbing you with a knife, and it can be so debilitating that you have to stop running altogether. This pain is called a side stitch (side cramp), and it’s a very common occurrence among runners. In fact, nearly everyone who runs will experience a side stitch at some point. So, what exactly is a side stitch? And what can you do to prevent it?
What Is a Side Stitch (Side Cramp)?
A side stitch is a sharp or stabbing pain in the abdomen that is often experienced during physical activity. It is also known as a cramp, ETAP, or exercise-related transient abdominal pain. The pain is caused by a spasm in the diaphragm, which is the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen. The spasm can be caused by a variety of things, including dehydration, eating too much before exercise, or not warming up properly before physical activity.
It can occur on either the left or right side, and is most common in runners. Side stitches are common in other sports as well, such as swimming, tennis, and even basketball.
What causes side stitches?
The exact cause of side stitches is still unknown. However, there are several theories as to why they occur.
One theory is that side stitches are caused by the diaphragm spasming. The diaphragm is a large muscle that separates the thoracic cavity (where your heart and lungs are) from the abdominal cavity (where your stomach and intestines are). It’s responsible for helping you breathe, and when it contracts, it pulls air into your lungs. It’s possible that when you run, the repeated jarring of your body can cause the diaphragm to spasm.
Another theory is that side stitches are caused by the organs in your abdominal cavity shifting. When you run, your organs bounce around and shift position. It’s possible that this shifting can irritate the lining of your abdominal cavity, leading to a side stitch.
Lastly, side stitches may be caused by dehydration. When you run, you sweat and lose fluids. If you don’t replace these fluids, you can become dehydrated. Dehydration can cause the muscles in your body to cramp, including the muscles in your diaphragm.
Should you keep exercising with a side stitch?
It’s the dreaded side stitch, and it always seems to happen when you’re in the middle of a run. You’re huffing and puffing, your legs are burning, and then all of a sudden, you get a sharp pain in your side. It’s enough to make you want to stop running and walk home.
But should you really stop running when you get a side stitch?
The answer is: it depends.
If the pain is severe, then it’s probably best to stop running and walk it off. But if the pain is manageable, then you can try to keep running.
Why do I get a stitch when I run?
When you run, your diaphragm contracts and relaxes to help you breathe. This can cause the muscles on either side of your diaphragm to spasm, leading to a stitch. A side stitch is also called a cramp or spasm in the abdominal muscles. It can be caused by insufficient blood flow to the muscles.
How to Prevent a Side Stich
Now that you know what a side stitch is and some of the possible causes, what can you do to prevent them? There are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of getting a side stitch.
Shore up your core:
All too often, runners ignore their core muscles. This can lead to all sorts of problems, including cramps, stitches and a general lack of energy. But by strengthening your core muscles, you can improve your blood flow to the abdominal area and make yourself more resistant to fatigue.
There are a number of ways to strengthen your core muscles, but one of the best is to do some form of plank exercise three times a week. This can be supplemented with donkey kicks and other exercises that target the core muscles. If you can, try to do some yoga or pilates as well – this will help to stretch out the muscles and make them even stronger.
In the long run, by strengthening your core muscles you’ll not only improve your running performance but also make yourself less susceptible to injuries. So make sure you add some core work to your training regime – your body will thank you for it!
It’s important to fuel wisely before your run. Heavy meals and foods high in fat and fibre take longer to digest, so it’s best to avoid them 2 hours before your run. Instead, focus on eating foods that are easy to digest and won’t weigh you down.
Keep a log of the foods and drinks you have before your runs. This will help you to recognise any potential triggers for your cramps. If you notice that certain foods or drinks seem to make your cramps worse, try to avoid them in the future.
Also, remember to stay hydrated before and during your run. Dehydration can contribute to cramping, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water.
Warm-up and stretch:
A lot of people don’t realize that going from standing to full sprint can create irregular, rapid-fire breathing patterns. This can lead to cramps, so it’s important to do a dynamic warm-up before you start your run.
Start by doing some light jogging in place. Then, do some high knees and butt kicks. Finally, do some side shuffles and cariocas. This warm-up will get your heart rate up and prepare your muscles for the workout ahead.
Another important thing to do is to stretch. Stretching before and after your run will help to prevent cramps. Focus on stretching your hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves. These are the muscles that are most likely to cramp up while running.
If you start to feel a side stitch coming on, slow down and walk or jog until it goes away. Then resume your workout at a slower pace.
Increase your breath
There are a few things that you can do to prevent a side stitch. First, you want to make sure that you are breathing deeply. If your breaths are shallow, they are not providing adequate oxygen to your muscles, including the diaphragm. Research shows that breathing faster, with an inhale for two steps and an exhale for one, increases the depth of breath. This will help to prevent a side stitch.
Another thing that you can do to prevent a side stitch is to increase your breath. If you are not taking in enough air, your body will not have the oxygen it needs to function properly. Make sure that you are taking deep breaths and that you are exhaling fully. This will help to prevent a side stitch.
Pay attention to your form
Poor form can lead to the organs in your abdominal cavity shifting around too much. This can irritate the lining of your abdominal cavity and lead to a side stitch. If you’re running correctly, your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels. Your arms should be at your sides, and your hands should be relaxed. Your strides should be even and smooth, and you should land on your midfoot, not your heel. If you can, practice running with good form before you start your run. This will help you to avoid getting a side stitch. Also, avoid hunching over. Good posture will help keep your organs in their proper place and prevent a side stitch.
How to get rid of a Side Stitch, Mid-Run?
If you do get a side stitch, there are a few things you can do to treat it.
First, slow down and take a break. This will help to ease the pain and give your muscles a chance to relax.
Second, drink some fluids. This will help to prevent dehydration, which can cause muscle cramping that leads to a side stitch.
Third, gently massage the area that’s hurting. This can help to loosen the muscle and ease the pain.
Fourth, try to stretch the muscle that’s cramping. This can help to relieve the pain and prevent the cramp from coming back.
Fifth, change your breathing pattern. If you get a stitch on your right side, exhale as your left foot hits the ground and do the opposite if you get a stitch on your left side.
Lastly, if the pain is severe, and doesn’t go away after a few minutes, or if it gets worse, stop running and seek medical attention.
When to Call Your Doctor?
Most side stitches are not serious and will go away on their own. However, there are a few situations where you should see a doctor.
If you have a history of heart problems, or if you’re experiencing chest pain along with your side stitch, you should see a doctor.
These could be signs of a more serious problem.
There are many possible explanations for why you might experience cramps or stitches while running, but the most likely cause is simply that you are not used to running and your body is not yet accustomed to the physical stress of the activity. Over time, as you become fitter and your body becomes better able to handle the demands of running, these issues should resolve themselves. In the meantime, be sure to warm up properly before running and to listen to your body so that you do not push yourself too hard and risk injury.