Side stitches while running can put a real kink in your training routine. Though they’re not usually a medical emergency, these side stomach cramps can be painful enough to force any runner to stop training altogether and hobble back home.
That’s really bad. Reallllllly bad!
But fret no more. In today’s article, I’ll share a few guidelines to help you prevent and stop side stitches while running.
But first things first, what’s a side stitch and what’s causing it in the first place?
Side Stitches While Running Explained
What’s medically known as exercise-related transient abdominal pain, or ETAP for short, it’s a pretty common and annoying running phenomenon. In fact, as much as 70 percent of runners reported experiencing a stitch while running in the last year, according to study.
The pain experienced on either side of the abdomen usually experienced during long-distance running. Often, the stabbing, sharp, pain is typically felt on the right lower side of the abdomen, just below the ribcage.
Typical symptoms may include a pulling sensation, a dull ache, or a stabbing, sharp pain.
Research tried to find out the exact cause of this problem but still consider as idiopathic. Simply unknown.
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 of time.
Every cloud has a silver lining as side stitches are not a medical emergency or even a reason to pay your doctor a visit.
How to Prevent Side Stitches While Running
While many questions regarding the exact science of side stitches are still without answers, luckily, there are many measures you can take to help minimize or prevent them.
Here are a few.
Warm up Properly
To help prevent side stitches during a run, warm up properly. This provides your body with enough time to adapt to intense activity. Skipping the warm-up phase may lead to rapid-fire, irregular breathing—this may set the stage for premature fatigue, side stitches, 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
Runner stand to gain a lot from regular strength training, especially when it comes to building core strength—fighting off side stitches is not an exception.
Strengthening your core muscles not only improves your form efficiency and performance but can also 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?
Mind your Pre-run Meal
If you get often 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.
In fact, what, when, and how much you eat before a session may contribute to side stitches. When your body is still digesting food, blood flow, 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 in the 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 a stomach pain in the process.
Stop A Side Stitch While Running
Have a bad history of side stitches? Do this next you’re plagued with the side stomach pain before you throw in the towel: 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 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!
Hopefully, the above strategies will help you better deal with side stitches and enjoy your next runs.
Last but not least, regular running might be the answer to preventing a side stitch for good since they’re more common among beginner runners. The more miles you log, the more endurance you build, and the less often a side stitch will occur.
So what are you waiting for? Go run now, worry later!