You’re cruising along, alright maybe huffing along, when suddenly a side stitch while running stops you in your tracks. Grabbing your side, you curl over and then start pulling and twisting and grasping for anything to make it stop.
They suck…the wind right out of you.
While sometimes they happen for no apparent reason, there are some common factors that cause side stitches and easy ways to ensure you don’t become of their victims.
What is a Side Stitch?
A strain of the ligaments around your diaphragm cause a feeling of cramps or muscle spasms in your side. 62% of people report always feeling it on their right side, which could be related to most commonly exhaling when landing with our right foot.
When we breathe the diaphragm rises and falls.
When we run all of our organs and muscles are also rising and falling.Unfortunately, we are usually breathing out when we land and that’s when our diaphragm is going up and muscles going down.
It’s not dangerous. There’s nothing to fix. The body can absolutely handle this…but you have to help it out.
Side stitches are different than say a calf cramp while running, which is often an overworked muscle, dehydration or electrolyte imbalances.
Causes of Side Stitches While Running
The most common causes of that painful side stitch are as follows
- Eating a large meal before running
- High sugar sports drinks
- Shallow Breathing
- Working out too hard for current fitness
- Weak core muscles
Fun Fact: Side stitches are much more common in younger athletes. Possibly because they go out harder or simply haven’t learned some of these lessons, who knows!
Let’s prevent side stitches while running, but learning what causes them and what you can change to avoid them.
Issue 1: Eating A Large Meal Before Running
In order to digest food, your body needs to send blood and energy to those organs. However, once you start running that is diverted to your muscles and the digestive process is slowed.
Additionally the friction caused by your extended stomach along the abdominal wall seems to be a big factor.
- You can train your body to enjoy food pre-run (because we need it!)
- Start with small easily digestible snacks like 1/2 banana with nut butter
- As your run distance increases, slowly increase the amount you eat prior to a run, which will train your body to better deal with food
- Try to eat snacks 30 minutes prior to running and keep full meals at least 2 hours prior to running
Issue 2: Sugary Sports Drinks
We’re all told to carbo load and get in those electrolytes, but that high sugar sports drink is a bad idea. The sugar empties more slowly from the stomach and retains water causing bloating, which as noted above presses on the diaphragm.
- Sip your sports drink throughout the run, NO guzzling.
- Alternate drinking water and sports drink at aid stations in a race.
- Avoid super high sugar drinks prior to a run.
- Utilize electrolyte drinks throughout long runs or after running to help with re-hydrating.
The same issue often arises from using too many gels. The overload of sugar causes a whole slew of things to happen in your gut that can lead to cramps.
Much like with food, you can slowly train your body to better utilize the sports aids for racing and long runs. But also important to note you may not need as much as you think.Did you know your sports drink could be causing side stitches? #running #marathontraining Click To Tweet
Issue 3 and 4: Shallow Breathing/Working Out Too Hard
When we first start running it’s hard…we often make it harder by focusing on a pace that we think we should hit. As a result our effort level is way too high for us to run for very long.
This leads to a change in our breathing patterns, we begin to pant like a dog.
That shallow breathing, leads to the body not receiving enough oxygen and the diaphragm then begins to cramp and spasm.
- Read my post on how to breath
- Your belly should be expanding and contracting, not your chest rising and falling
- Focus on perceived effort levels and NOT pace
- Start off with easy runs, adding in speed work only once you are doing those for a few months
Issue 4: Weak Core Muscles
Not only will a weak core lead to fatigue, but it plays a role in your posture while running. You need to be standing tall with shoulders to take in a full breath and get all the oxygen to your muscles.
Additionally, that stability is likely key to helping with all the movement happening that we mentioned above! One study showed those with the strongest core muscles had the least experience of side stitches.
- Remember to warm up prior to your run, a good place to toss in a core movement like a plank
- Add a core workout to your week at least 2-3 times
- Focus on good running form
How to Stop a Side Stitch
If you’re in the middle of a side stitch while running, none of the above knowledge is useful. You just want to know how to make it go away!
Following are the two most common recommendations. They aren’t Earth shattering, so hopefully the tips to PREVENT will help you no longer need these.
Step 1 is almost always to stop running if that’s an option and switch to breathing in through the nose and then blowing out through the mouth as though pushing air through a straw. Your lips are slightly pursed together.
Step 2 Deep Massage
Press your finger tips in to the side stitch, while massing in a circle and continuing to focus on deep breathing.
You have to get out of chest breathing and in to the belly.
Step 3 Release Tension
Standing tall, reach both arms towards the sky with a big inhale and then let your arms drop to your side with a BIG exhale. Try to exhale for longer than you inhaled.
You can also reach your arms up and try a slow side stretch, again really think about breathing in all the way to your belly and then a big long exhale.
Hopefully, now you know some of the causes and ways you can adjust training to avoid a side stitch while running!
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