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What is a ‘side stitch’ and why does it happen?

April 3, 2019

 

That feeling of getting a ‘side stitch’ when you are running or after a particularly hard exercise session is not the most pleasant! But what is it and why does it happen? And can it be prevented, or what can be done to get rid of it when it does happen? 

 

Also referred to as a side cramp or ETAP (Exercise-related Transient Abdominal Pain), ‘stitch’ is an intense stabbing pain under the lower edge of your ribcage. It starts quite quickly but when the exercise you are doing is stopped and you leave it a few minutes, it dissipates just as quickly as it starts.

 

There are mixed views as to the exact reason why it occurs in the first place, but here are a couple of different theories, put simply, as the science behind it is a tad more technical: 

 

  1. During intense exercise, more blood is required in your limbs. Your diaphragm – the muscle that separates your stomach and your abdomen from your heart and lungs and is the main muscle involved in breathing – when suffering a reduction in blood supply, causes it to cramp.

  2. If you have eaten fairly shortly before exercising (ie. Less than an hour before), the cramp could be caused by the fluids in your body trying to digest at the same time as incurring a blood supply reduction, causing your gut to ‘tug’ on the ligaments connecting it to your diaphragm.

  3. Cramp, in other parts of your body can be caused by an imbalance of electrolytes in the blood (eg. Calcium, potassium, sodium), so this could also be a contributing factor for your diaphragm. 

So if you get stitch, what can you do to get rid of it?

 

The best thing I have found is to slow down or stop what you are doing and put your arms up over your head.  This stretches your diaphragm out and lets more air into your lungs. Breathe deeply a few times and slow your breathing down and this will usually relieve the symptoms within a minute.

The other thing that works quite nicely either on its own or in combination with the above is if you gently massage the area with your hand, or if someone is kind enough to do it for you, if you have both of your arms up in the air.

 

Hope this helps and please let me know if you have any other tried and tested remedies for getting rid of stitch. x

 

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