Side stitches can wreck a workout (and quick)—here’s how to ditch them on the fly

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You’ve put in the work to get out and tackle a run: the Spandex is on, the sneakers are laced, and you even remembered to take your favorite fitness tracker along for the trip. But seven minutes into your morning miles, it hits you: the dreaded side stitch. Right up there with uncomfortable chafing (don’t worry: we’ve got a solution for you here) and getting lost, side stitches—commonly described as a sharp, nagging, cramping sensation in the right or left mid-torso—are a frequent annoyance for runners everywhere. Moreover, they’re an annoyance that a reported 60 percent of runners experience annually, 42 percent of whom say affects their performance, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Formally known in the medical world as exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), side stitches are most prevalent in runners, swimmers, and horseback riders, according to William Oswald, DPT, physical therapist at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation. Generally, the pain runners experience is an irritation of the abdominal lining. And the cause? Well, that varies. “Repetitive rotational movements—especially when the torso is extended—appear to aggravate the symptoms,” he says. “It occurs more frequently during competition and at higher intensities.”

Not exactly ideal when you’re trying to crank up the volume on the regular. Still, there are some things within your control that you can do to avoid the discomfort. Skip out on high sugar drinks or fatty foods prior to activity, suggests Oswald, and make sure to take the time to warm-up to help stave these off, rather than going from 0 to 100.

“Just like any muscle when overworked or tight, cramping can occur,” says Corinne Fitzgerald, coach at Mile High Run Club. “A way to combat this is to strengthen your core with exercises such as planks, Russian twists, and leg raises to minimize the rotation in your top half.” Tightness in the hips can also bring on side stitches, stemming from the pelvis and stretching up under the ribcage. In this case, Fitzgerald recommends foam rolling on a small ball, stretching, yoga, or massage to help alleviate the symptoms.

As for how to treat these bad-boys mid run? Even if you do all the things “right,” there’s still room for the side stitch to put a damper on your stride. “If you get a side stitch mid-run, don’t panic,” suggests Fitzgerald. “Take a minute or two to walk, open your chest and core with stretches and take deep breaths into your stomach.”

Taking deeper breaths can help decrease the amount of friction within the abdominal cavity. Then—after a few moments—Fitzgerald says that the pain should go away. If it doesn’t, Oswald suggests taking a pitstop to stretch and bend your upper body away from the pain. If side stitches are constantly cramping your style, then consult with your doctor to rule out any serious digestive issues, and you’ll be on your merry way in no time.

Oh, there are also some common misconceptions about running that you may have heard, so check them out here and then head on over to find out the best tips to steal when you’ve got a long run penciled in on your period.

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