Side Stitch When Running – The Complete Guide

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Cross Training For Runners
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Written by :

David Dack

A Side stitch when running can put a real kink in your training routine.

Though not usually a medical emergency, side stomach cramps during a run can be painful enough to force you to stop training altogether.

In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know about managing a side stitch when running– including:

  • What is a side stitch
  • The causes of a side stitch when running
  • How to stop a side stitch
  • How to prevent side stitches from running
  • And so much more

Sounds great?

Let’s dig in.

Side Stitch Running Explained

What’s medically known as exercise-related transient abdominal pain, or ETAP for short, it’s a pretty common and annoying running condition. More specifically, it refers to localized sharp pain in one side of the abdomen while running. The pain is experienced on either side of the abdomen. However, the stabbing, sharp pain is typically felt on the right lower side of the abdomen, just below the ribcage.

This is often blamed on muscles in the diaphragm spasming, and it’s usually the result of what you eat or drink before a run. It usually strikes the upper abdomen, just below the ribcage. It’s also much more likely to plague the right side and might be linked with shoulder tip region pain.

The Causes of Side Stitches in Runners

Research tried to find out the exact cause of this problem, but still considered idiopathic. The theories range from irritation of the peritoneum to poor blood circulation in the diaphragm, resulting in cramps in the abdominal muscles.

Consuming too much food before a run has also been shown to contribute to the onset of pain. That said, side stitches can impact anyone who runs for a prolonged period.

Every cloud has a silver lining, as side stitches are not a medical emergency or a reason to visit your doctor.

Side Stitch Symptoms

Side stitches can feel different for different runners.

Some runners feel a stitch as a sharp pain, almost like someone is stabbing them. Others report a cramping feeling or a dull ache. In most cases, they occur on the right side of the body.

Typical symptoms may include a pulling sensation, a dull ache, or a stabbing, sharp pain. They tend to dissipate once you stop running and walk them off.

According to a study of Sports Medicine that surveyed over 600 athletes, the pain related to a side stitch had an average pain rating score of 5.6 out of 10.

So you shouldn’t feel bad if you have to slow down because of the pain caused by side stitches. You’ll have to slow down until the pain fades. How long the pain lasts depends as it can var for each runner, so there’s no hard figure.

side stitches

How to Prevent A Side Stitch While Running

While many questions regarding the exact science of side stitches are still without answers, luckily, many measures help minimize or prevent them.

Here are a few.

Warm Up Properly

To help prevent side stitches during a run, warm up properly.

Skipping the warm-up phase may lead to rapid-fire, irregular breathing—this may set the stage for premature fatigue, side stitches, and even injury.

Simply warm up by walking briskly for at least five minutes, then gradually work your way into an easy running effort before picking up the pace.

Planning on doing a hard session (such as a sprint workout)? Then perform a series of dynamic exercises to get your muscles ready for intense exercise.

This is the dynamic warm-up I usually do.

Strengthen Your Core

Runners stand to gain a lot from regular strength training, especially when building core strength—fighting off side stitches is not an exception.

Strengthening your core muscles improves your form efficiency and performance and can help you build a more robust diaphragm.

This helps make it more resilient to fatigue, therefore, less likely to submit to cramps.

So how do you strengthen the core for maximal running performance?

Focus on compound movements like the plank, the Russian twists, Superman, and the side plank that targets your entire core.

Mind Your Pre-run Meal

If you often get plagued with side stitches during a run, take note of your food intake before you head out.

This helps determine if there’s a link (or connection) between your pre-run meals and the frequency (or intensity) of your side stitches.

What, when, and how much you eat before a session may contribute to side stitches. During digestion, blood flow to the diaphragm is severely limited, which may trigger spasms.

As a rule, give your body enough time after a meal to stave off a stitch, shooting for at least three hours before your run. Generally, high-fat, high-fiber foods take longer to digest; therefore, avoid them two to three hours before a run.

You should also avoid concentrated sugary drinks before and during training.

Need a pre-run snack to get you going?

Try having it an hour before your workout, choosing high-calorie, low-protein, low-fat snacks and foods at all times.

Avoid gassy foods.

These build up gas in your digestive system and may cause stomach pain.

Here are some foods to void before a run:

  • High-fiber foods can irritate your gut
  • High-fat and heavy foods
  • Sugary juices and drinks
  • Drinking too much water before a run.

Stop A Side Stitch When Running

Have a bad history of side stitches? Do this next time you’re plagued with side stomach pain: slow it down and breathe deeply to release the tension.

Next, walk slowly and press your finger on the right side of your body while powerfully exhaling and then holding your lips together.

I don’t know how this helps, but it does work—at least for me.

You can also bend your upper body forward and try reaching for your toes with your fingers.

This may open up more space within your internal organs, which, in theory, may help move the liver away from the diaphragm.

Once the pain subsides, pick up your running pace slowly.

The “creating space” method always works for me.

Have a try!

Side Stitch When Running – The Conclusion

Hopefully, the above strategies will help you better deal with side stitches and enjoy your next runs.

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