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How to Get Rid of a Side Stitch While Running

By Kim Nunley

Side stitches can pop up quickly and cause a sharp, intense pain at the side of your torso that may force you to immediately stop your run. The pain is due to cramping of your diaphragm muscle -- which is below your lungs -- that can be caused by unregulated breathing patterns that cause air and gas get trapped below your diaphragm; a full stomach; or exercising at too high of an intensity. There are several things you can do to help get rid of a side stitch. Take deeper breaths and time your breathing so that you exhale while landing on the foot opposite of the side stitch, stretch your diaphragm muscle and the area where you’re feeling pain and decrease your running pace to a slow jog or walk. There are also steps you can take to prevent side stitches from popping up and affecting your runs.

Check Your Breathing

Running with a regulated breathing pattern helps ensure that your body is delivering enough oxygen to your working tissues and helps prevent air and gas from getting trapped below your diaphragm. Beginning runners typically suffer from more side stitches because they have yet to master the pace of their breathing patterns. When you get a side stitch, it's likely that you're inhaling and exhaling too quickly, which limits the amount of oxygen delivered to your working muscles, including your diaphragm. To help alleviate the side stitch, take deep inhales and exhales.

Jenny Hadfield of "Runner's World" recommends exhaling when the foot that’s on the opposite side of the stitch strikes the ground. For example, if you feel pain on your right side, exhale when your left foot hits the ground. You don’t need to exhale every time that particular foot hits the ground but be sure that you do time your exhales so that they match up with that foot making impact. This helps to relieve the muscle spasm that’s causing the stitch.

Stretch Your Torso

Another way to help curtail a side stitch is to immediately stretch the side of the torso where you feel the pain. While continuing your run, lift the arm on the same side as the stitch and stretch up as tall as you can. This helps relieve the pressure placed on the diaphragm. Hold the stretch for a few seconds, relax and then do the stretch again. Take deep breathes as you stretch the stitch. If that doesn't help, lift both arms up over your head and stretch up as high as possible for five seconds and then lower your arms and flex your abs to crouch forward for five seconds. Alternate between stretching and tightening until you feel the stitch alleviate. You can also stretch your diaphragm muscle by taking a deep breath in as quickly as possible, holding your breath for two seconds and then forcibly exhaling with your lips pursed to restrict air flow.

Slow Your Pace

Running can cause your stomach, spleen and liver to bounce up and down, jarring and putting pressure on your diaphragm and eventually causing a side stitch. As soon as you feel a side stitch coming on, slow your running pace. Jog slowly for a few minutes to see if the side stitch begins to alleviate. If you feel relief, remain at a jog for another minute rather than immediately shooting off at your regular running speed. If you don’t feel relief after a few minutes, slow even further to a walk.

Avoiding Side Stitches

There are ways to help prevent side stitches, such as eating at an appropriate time and warming up properly prior to your runs. Avoid eating anything within one to two hours of your run. Take in only small sips of water during the hours prior to your workout. An empty stomach when you run will lower the amount of pressure placed on your diaphragm. A thorough dynamic warm-up performed before your runs gives your respiratory system time to gradually speed up your breathing rate. The warm-up helps prevent irregular breathing patterns that can sometimes happen when you go from being in a state of rest to running. Walk briskly for two to three minutes and then slowly jog for an additional two to three minutes to increase blood flow and breathing rate. Follow with 10 to 20 torso twists in each direction, holding your arms up over your head as you twist at the waist.

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