How to Get Rid of a Side Stitch While Running

I used to get side stitches more often when I was younger. Knock on wood, I haven’t had any lately. Here is some information about side stitches and how to handle them when you are on the run.

What exactly is a side stitch?

A side stitch occurs as the result of a spasm in the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates your thoracic cavity from your abdominal cavity.

Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov

Believe it or not, there is actually a more scientific term for the side stitch: exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP). I like to refer to it as the potentially excruciating pain that can occur under your rib cage while running. Side stitches can range from mildly annoying to run-stopping.

A side stitch occurs as the result of a spasm in the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates your thoracic cavity from your abdominal cavity. When you inhale while running, the diaphragm is pushed downward (away from the abdominal cavity) as your lungs expand. When you exhale, the opposite occurs. This constant and repeated stretching of muscle and ligaments (which occurs at a faster pace during running) can cause pain.

How do you get rid of a side stitch?

  • Stop running when you start feeling the pain of a side stitch. If for some reason you can’t stop, slow down.
  • Focus on your breathing. Try to visualize your breathing as you take a deep breath in and then exhale. Think of something relaxing if you are having a hard time slowing your breathing down.
  • If you are a runner who tends to exhale when your right foot hits the ground, try exhaling when your left foot lands. If you usually exhale on a left foot landing, try switching to an exhale as the right foot hits the ground.

How can you avoid getting a side stitch?

  • Try not to ramp up the level of exertion too quickly in your training. For example, let yourself warm up before doing speed work or tempo runs.
  • Be mindful of your breathing–you hear this a lot in yoga, but it works for running too! Make sure you continue to breathe in and out as deeply as you can.
  • Try to avoid eating within an hour of beginning your run.

How do you get rid of a nasty side stitch? 

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m a believer in these tips! I don’t get them very often, but when I do all I have to do is concentrate on my breathing. Good-bye stitch! A friend of mine does the foot thing and says it works for her too! I don’t like to stop if I can help it, but if it’s a bad one I have. Great tips for everyone!

  2. says

    Thank you for posting this!! This is very helpful information! I remember when I experienced my first side stitch when I picked up running I had no idea what was going on! I wish I would have read this then!

  3. says

    Thank you for these tips and also for the info on the side stitch. I didn’t know exactly what they were. Sometimes, if I get one, I raise my arm (opposite) side in the air while I am running. This helps me to breath deeper and better and usually will help ease the pain of the side stitch. Happy Friday! :)

  4. says

    This is great — for me, I find that if I drink too much water while running or eat too close to when I start running, I tend to have side stitch issues. I used to get them from breathing too quickly (sorta hyperventilating) but have learned to breathe more mindfully and it has made a huge difference.

    • admin says

      It’s funny how often we forget to breathe! ;-) Whenever I am feeling a little overwhelmed during the day, I make myself take a few deep breaths. Always works! :-)

  5. says

    I find eating before exercise normally ALWAYS causes to me to have a stitch. I always find it quite hard to get the right amount of food. Because running on an empty stomach feels just as bad.

    • admin says

      It’s funny because I can eat pretty close to running and usually don’t have issues–I think mine have happened when my breathing is off. :-)

  6. says

    This type of thing happens to me all the time. It hurts so much. Sometimes I’ll run with my arms in the air above my head to try and stretch it out, it also distracts me and calms me down.

  7. says

    I have always wondered about this, that diagram just looks painful, I think if I get a stirch and remeber that picture it will make it feel worst, next time I feel one coming on though I will definitly try your tips.

  8. says

    GREAT info. Thanks for posting this! I feel that, if I’m breathing to shallowly to regularly (two paces — breathe in, two paces — breathe out, etc.) they happen. So I take as much of a deep breath in as I can and hold it for an extra footfall or two, then slowly breathe it out, that can help. Basically, just changing my breathing patterns works best. But there are times when nothing seems to work. I’m so glad to have a few more tricks in my arsenal now. Thanks!!
    http://fromgrindtowhine.com/2011/10/26/30-minutes-of-music/

  9. Minda says

    I’ve gotten side stitches before but it’s been awhile. I started training for a 10K a few weeks ago though and got one for the first time in that process yesterday. I wasn’t able to finish the run and was very disappointed as I feel if I can’t keep the schedule then I won’t be ready for the 10K.
    I hadn’t changed anything from my other run days and hadn’t eaten right before I ran. I have no idea what might have caused mine suddenly!
    I tried the deep breaths and slowing down but it didn’t help. I guess I’ll try the alternate breathing rhythm if it happens again and maybe the arms in the air thing (though, I’m not sure I can handle the stares from passers-by!). Thanks for the tips!

    • Jessica says

      You’re welcome–side stitches are SO annoying. Hopefully the alternating breathing will help you out next time. Good luck with the 10k! :-)

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