Anyone who’s gone for a run has likely experienced a side stitch – that sharp pain across your abdomen, just below the rib cage. While there are a few different theories about what causes them – whether it’s related to muscle fatigue, irregular breathing or what you ate or drank before a run – side stitches can literally stop some runners in their tracks.
While annoying, side stitches aren’t usually something to worry about. If you are running and develop one, slow down your pace and regulate your breathing. If the pain causes you to stop running, try some deep breathing and bending forward while you contract your abdominal muscles.
Here’s a few things to try to prevent side stitches from developing:
- Don’t go too fast too soon. Runners who go full throttle without much of a warm-up are more likely to develop side stitches so make sure you warm-up properly with some stretches and brisk walking before going full out on your run.
- Try some stretching exercises, especially those that strengthen the abdomen, hip flexors and back. A few good ones to try include doing planks and donkey kicks.
- Breathe mindfully – try to match your breathing to your strides. Inhale for two to four strides and exhale the next few strides. Regulating your breathing not only prevents side stitches, but also improves how oxygen moves through your body.
- Don’t eat or drink an hour or two before your planned run. (Water is ok). If you have frequent side stitches, track what you eat and drink and see if you notice pattern. Some studies have shown sugary drinks and food high in fiber can lead to side stitches.
If side stitches regularly get in the way of your exercise routine, check with your family physician. He or she can rule out any other possible causes and develop a plan to get you back to your running routine.
Kayla Pfeiffer is a licensed athletic trainer with ThedaCare Orthopedics Care at ThedaCare Medical Center-New London.