As runners, we have all experienced that awful side pain during a run. Whether you are running leisurely on a cottage trail or training hard for a marathon, the nasty and painful cramp in your side can seriously slow you down. Regardless of how efficient your pre-run stretch was, you may still experience a side stitch.
While there is no consensus on what causes the pain, medical professionals believe it’s associated with your diaphragm muscle and the surrounding tendons. Your diaphragm is a muscle along the bottom of your ribs and is the main muscle associated with breathing. When you take air in, your diaphragm contracts, allowing your lungs to expand. Like other muscles, overworking your diaphragm during a run can strain the muscle, causing it to spasm. Other studies have determined that eating heavy foods or consuming sugary drinks can also lead to the nasty side stitch. While there is no proven preventative action or treatment of the side stitch, there has been enough research (and experienced runners) that can provide helpful suggestions to help you avoid that pain during your next run.
Practice breathing exercises
A few minutes before you begin your run, practice steady breathing. Attempt to inhale for a count of five and exhale for a count of five. Try increasing your breath count to seven or eight once you have mastered a count to five. During your run you may only be able to count to three or four (during inhales and exhales) but the controlled breath will help to avoid straining your diaphragm and will ensure you are taking in enough air.
A second exercise to practice is belly breathing. On your rest day, try lying on your back with your hands on your stomach, and breathe normally. As you inhale deeply, allow the belly to expand and rise as the diaphragm contracts pushing down on your abdomen. Belly breathing allows us to take more air in and out of our lungs with the help of the diaphragm. The more you practice this type of breathing, the more natural it will feel. The next time you do feel that side pain coming, you can slow down your run and incorporate your belly breathing to increase the amount of air you’re taking in.
Strengthen your core
Because your diaphragm works so hard during your run, it is important to strengthen it. Try these yoga poses to help strengthen your core:
Shiva Twist: This pose is great for beginner yogis and represents tree pose! Because this pose requires you be balanced, you will need to engage your core in order to hold it. Try holding for 15-20 seconds, and work your way up to a full 30 seconds on each leg.
Dolphin Plank: Just like regular plank, holding this pose is a serious ab workout. While in this pose your rectus abdomens tightens to oppose your back muscles and hold your trunk solid. Try holding this for 20-25 seconds.
(Tip: make sure your elbows are under your shoulders and your core is engaged)
Be good to your body
While it is normal to treat yourself, eating heavy foods or foods/drinks high in sugar may contribute to pain in your side (and it isn’t very good for your hard working muscles!) As yogis, we strive for a diet that is 80+ per cent plant-based. While it isn’t necessary to cut out meats and starches, minimizing them before a run can help. Also, avoid sugary, processed drinks. Drink water! If you have a taste for something sweeter, try making tea and adding ice and some fruit and letting it sit in your fridge for an hour, the perfect runners summer drink!