Side pain, or side stitches when running, can be not only painful and uncomfortable, but they can hinder a perfect running experience. The pain can start off as a small cramp and increase to a sharp pain in no time at all. More than anything, side stitches when running are a nuisance and may mean you need to stop your run early!
What is a Side Stitch?
A side stitch is pain that is felt on either the right or left side of the body just below the ribs. They can also feel like they are in your ribs, or even in your back. Side stitches most often occur on the left side more than the right. Sometimes the pain is so intense it will stop you right in your tracks.
Why do Side Stitches Occur?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive explanation from the medical community for why we get side stitches when running, but there are several theories. Some medical researchers believe that side stitches are more common with runners who are new to running. They believe that new runners are more likely to have rapid or shallow breathing versus long slow breaths. Rapid shallow breathing doesn’t fully engage and relax the diaphragm, which can cause the ligaments on one side of the body to contract forcefully. Another thought is that rapid breathing, combined with the high impact of running and exhaling as your right foot hits the ground, puts 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. Others have stated that eating or drinking (carbonated or sugary drinks especially) just before you run can cause side stitches. The theory is that the digestive system has not had a chance to digest the food and drink enough and can cause side stitches while running due to the extra work of digesting food and running simultaneously. Still other research suggests that skipping your pre-run warm up and going straight into a hard run will cause side stitches.
Preventing Side Stitches
If you get side stitches when running on a regular basis, there are a few things you can do to help prevent them. First, don’t eat a meal before you go running. Opt instead for a small snack if you need it and even then make sure you give yourself enough time to digest it before you go for your run. Also, avoid drinking a lot of liquid of any kind before running, and avoid carbonated drinks especially. Water is always your best choice before a run, especially in hot weather. Next, practice deep and steady breathing while you run. I try to breathe in for 4 counts and then breathe out for four, usually in time to my feet hitting the ground. Depending on how fast you run you may need to increase or decrease the count for your own running. Make sure you are breathing into your stomach rather than into your chest, and concentrate on maintaining proper posture. The proper posture for running is to have your chest up rather than hunching your shoulders. Also make sure your shoulders are not scrunched up to your hears but are instead relaxed. This posture will ensure that your muscles are not being squeezed, which can cause almost a muscle cramp. If you still get side stitches when running push on the point of pain with your fingers and breathe deeply. This should help it pass quickly.
Do you get side stitches when running? What helps you? Tell me in the comments below.
Photo by Jack Mallon is licensed under CC BY 2.0