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An all-too-familiar sharp pain in your side will halt you in your tracks if you’re out running or doing some other kind of exercise. If you’ve ever had a side stitch, sometimes called a muscle stitch or exercise-related intermittent abdominal pain (ETAP), you know how annoying and inconvenient it can be.
Side stitches are popular during a variety of activities, particularly running. In reality, according to a 2015 survey, up to 70% of runners had suffered a stitch in the previous year. Furthermore, one out of every five-race competitor is expected to get a side stitch.
ETAP isn’t a medical emergency because it’s not an excuse to visit a doctor. Although the origins of side stitches are unknown, most people will cope with them if they occur. Learn how to get rid of a side stitch so you can continue to move without pain.
What Is a Side Stitch?
When exercising at some stage, you may have felt a side stitch (also known as a side cramp, side sticker, or side ache). The most common symptom of a stitch is localized abdominal pain on one hand. The discomfort is commonly felt on the right lower abdominals, just below the ribs, and is sharp or slashing. Runners and swimmers are more prone to it. Stitches are twice as expected on the right side of older runners as they are on the left. Younger runners, on the other hand, have the opposite problem.
While age tends to play a role in ETAP, with older adults being less likely to experience side stitches than infants, teenagers, or younger adults, a person’s sex or BMI may not. Many different forms of physical activity will cause a side stitch in almost anyone of any form, age, or ability.
According to research, people define ETAP in various ways depending on the intensity of the pain: acute or stabbing if the pain is extreme, or like a muscle cramp or squeezing pressure if the pain is mild. Although the precise cause of ETAP is unknown, several risk factors have been linked to it.
- Younger runners are more likely than older runners to get side stitches. When older runners do experience ETAP, however, the pain is usually rated as less intense.
- Eating or drinking before a run will raise the chances of having a side stitch. Some foods and beverages, especially those high in sugar or fat, as well as certain fruits and fruit juices, and dairy products, seem to be more correlated with ETAP.
- Those who are new to exercising and are still working on improving and strengthening their abdominal muscles can feel cramps like side stitches.
- On the other hand, if you exercise too much considering your fitness level, you’re more likely to get a side stitch, particularly if you haven’t warmed up.
- Warming up properly has oxygen circulating through your body, which can help you avoid a side stitch, particularly if you’re a runner.
- It can be difficult for some people since the cool air can cause the diaphragm to spasm. You can experience a cramp or stitch if you are unable to breathe deeply.
Causes of Side Stitches
While side stitches have been extensively researched, scientists are still baffled as to why they occur. Although there are several possibilities, the majority of them are founded on hearsay. You may get a side stitch for a variety of reasons, including:
- Scoliosis (spinal curvature): One study found a correlation between ETAP and increased spinal curvature.
- Drinking sugary beverages before exercising: Some evidence suggests that drinking sugary beverages before exercise raises the risk of stitches.
- Going for a run too soon after eating: Runners might find that if they’re already full from a pre-workout meal or snack, they’re more likely to get a stitch.
- Not warming up before a run: Runners have stated that starting a run without warming up increases their chances of getting a side stitch.
- Shallow Breathing: Side stitches have been linked to insufficient breathing while working.
Muscle cramps are often associated with stitches, but at least one study found little change in electrical activity in the muscles while a runner was undergoing ETAP.
Although no one knows for sure what causes a side stitch, scholars have suggested two hypotheses to understand the phenomenon: dietary-related causes and physiology-related causes.
According to research, what you eat and drink after and before workout matters whether you’re a runner or an exerciser. ETAP is caused mainly by foods consumed before exercise. Surprisingly, the amount of food consumed seems to have less impact than the duration of a meal or the kinds of food consumed.
The ingestion of high-carbohydrate juices or liquids (11 percent concentration or higher) either before or during exercise increased the risk of a side stitch, according to a study published in Sports Medicine in 2015. According to some reports, ETAP has also been linked to the consumption of fruit juice or high-carbohydrate sports drinks before and after exercise. People who drank water or low-carb sports drinks, on the other hand, had fewer side stitches, according to the report.
Exercise does not always put you at risk for side stitches. ETAP is most often triggered by frequent torso extension motions, which occur during some modes of physical exercise. This may explain why side stitches occur in horse riders or off-track racers whose upper bodies are repeatedly held in vertical positions under high tension. This tension affects the following body structures:
- The diaphragm is a muscle membrane that connects the abdominal cavity to the lungs.
- The lumbar spine is a region of the lower back.
- The soft lining of the abdomen and pelvic cavity that covers much of the internal organs is known as the parietal peritoneum.
- The connective tissues that keep the internal organs in place are known as peritoneal ligaments.
Friction between tissue layers and ligament and muscle stretching can cause spasms and inflammation of sensitive nerve endings in the spine and parietal peritoneum in the abdomen.
According to some anecdotal theories, exhaling on the right foot puts more weight on the liver (which is also situated on the right just under the ribs). The hypothesis goes that this causes the diaphragm to lift simultaneously as the liver drops, possibly causing ETAP—though there isn’t enough research to back this up.
How to Get Rid of a Side Stitch
There are several methods for preventing a side stitch. Though they may not be effective for all, none of them are dangerous, and at least one of them may work for you. When a stitch tries to derail your running, try the following steps before giving up:
- Gently press your fingertips into the region on the right side of your abdomen where you are experiencing discomfort. To an extent, this should help ease it.
- Take a deep breath in as soon as you can to bring your diaphragm down and change your breathing rhythm. For a few seconds, hold your breath and forcefully exhale with pursed lips.
- Change the breathing and stride patterns. Exhale on the left foot hit as you normally exhale when the right foot hits the deck.
- Stretch the affected area. Lift your left arm above your head and lean toward the right side if you have a side stitch on your left side. This will aid in the opening up of the muscles in the stitched section.
- Slow down to a steady walk and focus on deep breathing if anything that fails. You will restart your normal activities after the stitch has faded.
If you get a side stitch when running, you can pause right away and take action to relieve the pain. If the discomfort persists, make an appointment with the doctor.
How to Prevent a Side Stich
When running and exercising, there are recognized risk factors for having a stitch. Fortunately, by following a few simple steps, you can find that stopping a stitch is better than removing one. While some risk factors, such as age or the weather, are uncontrollable, there are some handy dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
Know How to Fuel Up
For pre-hydration, avoid high-carb sugary foods, such as sports drinks, and drink pure water. And sure you diet well as well. Avoid eating a large meal right before exercising, particularly foods high in protein and take longer to digest. Sip rather than chug beverages when exercising, and stay away from drinks rich in caffeine, refined sugar (carbohydrate), or sodium.
Before you begin to increase the intensity of a workout, make sure your body is getting enough oxygen. One of the most important ways to stop a side stitch is to control breathing. To draw in more oxygen, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, breathing heavily through your abdomen rather than your chest.
Shift your stride-breathing rhythm while you’re running. The majority of runners breathe in a two-to-one ratio, taking one full breath with every two full strides. Changing the pattern regularly can help to relieve tension on the abdomen and torso.
Strengthen Your Core
Make yoga a part of your workout routine. The exercise will assist you with learning how to breathe properly. Yoga breathing exercises emphasize deep belly breathing. Extend the belly during inhalations and draw it in during exhalations and learn to breathe with your diaphragm.
Such yoga postures may strengthen abdominal muscles. Planks, side planks, and V-sits are all good exercises to strengthen your core.
Practice Good Form
Always warm up first: Before you race, do some dynamic stretches and go for a 5 to 10-minute walk or jog to keep the blood flowing to your muscles. Make sure you’re not hunched over since this would make it easier to breathe deeply. Keep a healthy posture and proper running form in mind.
Dress for the Weather
If it’s freezing outside and you’ve not dressed up appropriately, inhaling deep lungfuls of frigid air would be difficult. Put on a neck warmer, snood, or tie a scarf over your neck and gently over your mouth and nose before going for a cold-weather walk or race.
Long Distance Running has few words for you
If you are following all the mentioned tips in this article and still not able to avoid or control side stitches pain, you are advised to get medical assistance. Consulting your physiology therapist might be a good idea.