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Preventing Side Stitches

Preventing Side Stitches

Did you know that side stitches are the most common complaint among runners? If you have ever experienced one, you know that they can be painful. So what causes them?

The proposed cause of side stitches: When running, there is increased abdominal pressure pushing up on the diaphragm. At the same time, rapid breathing causes the lungs to expand and this presses down on the diaphragm – a muscle that if “pinched” from above and below, gets less blood flow and spasms thus resulting in painful side stitches.

The good news is that as the body adapts to training, breathing becomes less labored and if this is the cause of the side stitch, the stitches will go away as the runner gets more accustomed to the distance.

If experienced runners get side stitches, possible explanations include: the pre-race or workout meal was too fatty, too close to the event and it fills the stomach and pulls down on the diaphragm causing it to spasm.

So what do you do when you get a side stitch? Treatment is simple – stop running and take long, slow deep breaths. Try stretching. Extend both arms to the sky and bend at the waist to each side. This should relieve the spasm and off you go!

Prevention is key. Be mindful of what you eat before an event and as your endurance gets better, you should experience fewer side stitches.

Article adapted by Lewis G Maharam, MD, FACSM

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