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How to Deal With Rib Pain While Running

By Kim Nunley

If you’ve spent much time running, it’s likely that you’ve experienced bouts of pain just under the sides of your ribs. This pain is often referred to as a side stitch -- or transient abdominal pain in medical terms -- and can make your running sessions extremely uncomfortable. There are a couple of ways to deal with side stitches when they arise.

Possibe Causes of Side Stitches

There are numerous possible causes of side stitches during running. One theory is that your pumping legs and rapid breathing cause a dual pinching at your torso that prevents normal blood and oxygen flow, leading to cramps. Pain can also be caused by exercising after eating a full meal or foods high in fat; this load in your stomach can place stress on your diaphragm, which is located just under your lungs. Side stitches also may occur due to the stretching of ligaments in your diaphragm as you run.

Handling Side Stitches Due to Irregular Oxygen Flow -- Part 1

A side stitch feels like a sharp pain located at the sides of your torso just below your ribs. If you feel this type of pain arise while you're running, slow your pace and take deeper breathes. This gives your body time to take in more oxygen, which is helpful if the side stitch is caused by irregular oxygen flow. If necessary, decrease your workout intensity further and take in even more oxygen by slowing to a walk and placing your hands on your head. In most cases, the pain should subside relatively quickly so that you can continue on with your workout.

Handling Side Stitches Due to Irregular Oxygen Flow -- Part 2

If slowing your pace and breathing deeply doesn’t alleviate the discomfort after a few minutes, momentarily pause your workout. Stop walking and bend forward at the waist. From this bent-over position, tighten your abdominals and continue to inhale deeply. Eventually, the side stitch pain should stop and you can continue your workout. Allow your body to ease back into your session with a few minutes of walking before you resume your run.

Avoiding Side Stitches Caused by Food, Stretched Ligaments and Dehydration

To decrease your chances of getting side stitches, avoid eating within two hours of your workout so you're not running on a full stomach. Before runs, eat meals that are primarily made up of carbohydrates, like pasta, because they're easy to digest. In addition, incorporate regular core workouts; having strong abs and lower-back muscles lowers your risk of getting side stitches. When you know you’re going to be performing runs of 60 minutes or longer, plan to schedule brief stops every 10 to 15 minutes to take in 7 to 10 ounces of water. This will keep you hydrated without causing your stomach to become too full.

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