You know the feeling—that sudden, jolting pain in your side that sends you doubling over instead of moving forward. It has a name: exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), better known as the side stitch. It may be dull or sharp; it may present on either side of your abdomen. But no matter what, it hurts.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent (and alleviate) the pain.
For starters, medical and fitness professionals don’t fully understand what causes side stitches. Several theories include:
- The combined impact of taking deep breaths while running causes pressure on the diaphragm above and below—blocking oxygen and blood flow, which results in a side stitch
- The diaphragm contracts and cramps
- Internal ligaments “cry uncle” (not a medical term) after being jerked around during physical exertion
- An abdominal wall membrane—called the parietal peritoneum—becomes irritated during physical exertion
- Undigested food (and possibly gas) puts pressure on your internal organs and diaphragm
Despite the common experience of side stitches among athletes across all sports, they seem to afflict runners more than others—and even so, they particularly afflict runners who try to do too much, too soon. Regardless, they’re not alone: approximately 70% of runners report getting a side stitch in the last year.
So, what can you do to prevent painful side stitches? Fitness professionals suggest:
- Warming up before exercising
- Working up to harder routines
- Switching your breathing (TIP: Instead of breathing in every time your right foot hits the pavement, for example, mix it up and breath out.)
- Watching what you eat and drink (TIP: Avoid fatty meals, and give yourself 1-2 hours for digestion before hitting the treadmill.)
- Eliminating sports drinks and fruit juice before working out
- Sticking with your workout! High-level athletes suffer from stitches less often than others.
Finally, once a side stitch starts, try this: Stop, stretch your sides, breathe deeply and drink a little salt water (or down a fast-food salt packet). According to Runner’s World, when athletes lose salt, they cramp. A quick salt fix can do the trick!
Looking for more fitness guidance? A friendly Gym Source associate is ready to help at a showroom near you.
With thanks to our sources: http://greatist.com/move/how-to-stop-a-side-stitch, http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-prevention-recovery/how-to-beat-side-stitches and http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/side-stitches-when-running