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Why we get side stitches while running and how to get rid of them

Try practicing these techniques to avoid getting a side stitch next time you head out for a run

We have all been there, you are on a run and immediately hit by pain in the side of your abdomen. This sharp pain digging into the side of your body can spoil any run or workout. What you have is a side stitch, which is scientifically called exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), but why do we get side stitches? And how can we get rid of them?

The answer is from the friction and pressure from your stomach. Humans have a two-layered abdominal lining called the peritoneum, which wraps around the diaphragm, covering your stomach and other organs. There is supposed to be space between the two layers, but when there isn’t a space, the two layers rub together with movement, creating a sharp pain. This can happen if you exercise right after you’ve eaten a big meal, for example, or if you have consumed too much sugar.

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It is also possible that poor running posture can cause this pain. A 2010 study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that runners with a rounding upper back are more likely to get a stitch.

The most obvious way to avoid getting a side stitch is by not eating a large meal an hour before your run. Most foods take a while to break down in your stomach. If you eat too soon before a run, the food takes up room and puts pressure on your abdominal wall. If you need to eat before your workout, try to consume food that is easy to digest, such as bananas, toast or rice.

Another thing to avoid is beverages high in sugar, such as pop, lemonade, or energy drinks. Limiting these to three or four hours before exercise will help you avoid getting a stitch. If you’re consuming electrolyte beverages, it’s best to drink them slowly to fully let your body absorb the nutrients without filling it up with sugary acids.

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Practising your breathing to engage your diaphragm can also help cure your side stitch. Staying relaxed in your breath during exercise can help prevent your abdomen muscles from seizing up, which often contributes to a side stitch. If you struggle with a weak running form, work on building a strong core. Exercises like planks, glute bridges and bird-dogs can help you build up strength to decrease the chance of an abdominal flare-up.

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The most common way to get rid of a stitch is to stop exercising and let it pass. You can try taking deep breaths and applying pressure on the area to reduce pain. The idea behind this technique is to fill your entire abdomen with air and to calm down your nervous system.


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