Side Stitch – the bane of all runners. We do the necessary prep, we train hard, we taper well, we eat clean, we carb-load, we did all the right things, but to be hit with a side stitch at kilometre 10 into our race – what? What went wrong? You start to wonder whether you started out too fast, or you ate too heavy a breakfast or maybe too light a breakfast?

What’s A Side Stitch?

A side stitch is an intense stabbing pain under your ribcage. There are various theories on why a side stitch occurs and no proper scientific explanation. The explanations go from there’s air in your stomach, to limited blood supply in the diaphragm hence causing cramps, to irritation to your stomach lining. The most plausible scientific explanation is the decreased blood supply to your diaphragm. This decrease in oxygen supply causes the diaphragm to somewhat malfunction and cause a side stitch.

So, nervousness, improper breathing, poor running form, starting off too fast, weak abdominal muscles, a full stomach may all affect the diaphragm and prove a side stitch.

How To Prevent A Side Stitch?

#1 Eat a light breakfast – Remember to eat a breakfast that is low in fibre and fat. Eat something which constitutes more carbohydrates instead. One thing for sure – No cheeseburger and fries!

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#2 Breakfast 2.0 – You should typically be consuming your breakfast 2-3 hours pre-race and have a smaller lighter snack just before your race. This is your breakfast 2.0. For instance you could have a banana or a bar.

#3 Warm Up – This cannot be stressed enough. A warmup helps prep your muscle (including your diaphragm) for the impending tough working that is to come. It also regulates your breathing, making sure that your breathing doesn’t go too fast, too soon. Remember, one of the causes of a side stitch is irregular breathing.

#4 Go Steady – Don’t start out too fast! If you start out too fast, you may overwhelm your body. Your breathing will be all over the place, hence easily provoking a side stitch.

#5 It’s All About Your Core – Well trained obliques and transverse abdominal muscles can help prevent a side stitch. Spend 10 minutes everyday doing planks, side planks, Russian twists – and bid side stitches goodbye!

I’ve Got A Side Stitch – What Do I Do?

#1 Breathe – Focus on your breathing! Try and regulate your breathing. Take deep breaths instead of short shallow ones. This helps the relaxation of your muscles.

#2 Use Your Hand – A telltale sign of a runner with a stitch is seeing them having their hands on the side of their abdominals. This helps. Use your hand and apply some pressure onto the side stitch.

Photo Credits: Wilderman Physical Therapy 

#3 Slow Down –  Try to slow down and relax your upper body. Shake it out a little. Don’t keep pushing your body to go faster or keep with your pace. .Try to get rid of your side stitch first before going out again.

#4 Stop And Stretch – Often it is better to stop and stretch rather than to continue pushing on with your stitch. Stretching will help relieve the tension. And once the stitch goes away, you can hit your target pace again.

The Final Tip: Run more! Run more and train more because – whilst you are running, you are training your diaphragm, respiratory muscles and abdominal muscles to become stronger. Therefore, reducing the likelihood of a stitch!

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