Even experienced runners can experience side stitches during a long run, which can be both uncomfortable and frustrating. In this article, we’ll discuss what side stitches are, what causes them, and most importantly, how to deal with them effectively.
What is a Side Stitch?
A side stitch, also known as exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), is a sharp pain or cramp felt on one side of the abdomen during physical activity. It usually occurs just below the ribcage, but can also be felt in the lower abdomen, and may last from a few seconds to a few minutes.
What Causes Side Stitches?
The exact cause of side stitches is not fully understood, but several theories have been proposed. Some experts believe that side stitches may be caused by the stretching of the ligaments that support the diaphragm, which can cause irritation and pain. Others suggest that the pain is due to the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, or due to the stretching of the abdominal muscles during exercise.
However, one of the most widely accepted explanations for side stitches is the stretching of the peritoneum, a membrane that lines the abdominal cavity. When you run, your diaphragm contracts and moves up and down, which can cause the peritoneum to bounce up and down as well. This movement can lead to friction and irritation, which in turn can cause the pain associated with a side stitch.
How to Deal with a Side Stitch
- Slow Down and Take Deep Breaths
If you feel a side stitch coming on, slow down your pace and take deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, making sure to exhale completely. This can help to relax your diaphragm and reduce the pain associated with a side stitch.
- Change Your Breathing Pattern
Another effective way to deal with a side stitch is to change your breathing pattern. Try breathing out when your left foot hits the ground, as this can help to release the tension in your diaphragm and reduce the pain associated with a side stitch. You can also try breathing through your mouth, which can help to increase the flow of oxygen to your muscles and reduce the buildup of lactic acid.
- Massage the Affected Area
If you feel a side stitch coming on, try massaging the affected area with your hand. Apply gentle pressure and massage in a circular motion, focusing on the area just below your ribcage. This can help to relax your diaphragm and reduce the pain associated with a side stitch.
- Stretch Your Abdominal Muscles
Another effective way to deal with a side stitch is to stretch your abdominal muscles. Stop running and bend forward, reaching your arms towards your toes. This can help to stretch the muscles in your abdomen and relieve the pain associated with a side stitch.
- Stay Hydrated
Dehydration can be a common cause of side stitches, so it’s important to stay hydrated during a long run. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your run, and consider carrying a water bottle with you if you’re running for an extended period.
- Improve Your Core Strength
Improving your core strength can help to prevent side stitches from occurring in the first place. Try incorporating core-strengthening exercises such as planks, sit-ups, and Russian twists into your workout routine to help improve the strength and stability of your abdominal muscles.
In conclusion, side stitches can be a painful and frustrating experience, but they don’t have to ruin your long run.