It’s likely that if you are a runner or have participated in a mid to high-intensity workout, you have experienced the pain of a ‘stitch .’ A stitch in your side typically feels like a sharp pain located on the side of the upper abdomen. Some find that taking deep breaths makes the pain worse. The pain itself can range from being a mild cramp to a stabbing pain that may stop you dead in your tracks.
Exercise specialists continue to study the ‘stitch’ to determine what exactly is going on in the body. One theory suggests that the diaphragm is not getting enough blood flow as exercise sends blood to the limbs during exercise. This apparent lack of blood flow may cause a cramp or spasm within the diaphragm.
Another theory suggests that digestion, or the lack of digestion, causes a pull on the ligaments of the diaphragm. For example, when we breathe very hard during intense exercise, the diaphragm must work to keep up, but it may not be ready for this work.
Both theories suggest that the diaphragm plays a significant role in stitches; particularly, if the diaphragm is working in overdrive, it may lead to a cramp or spasm. However, with proper training and conditioning and taking other preventative steps, you may be able to avoid getting a stitch.
As there is a suggested link between the digestive process and stitches, try to avoid eating a large meal before your workout or game. Specifically, foods that are high in fat pose more of an increased risk. Water is your best choice for staying hydrated, so avoid sugary and fizzy drinks. While being hydrated is vital, be cautious about drinking too much water right before your activity.
If you are new to running or any type of mid to high-intensity exercise, be sure to work your way up to your fitness goals. Set short-term as well as long-term goals when conditioning and strengthening. Getting a stitch in your side is relatively common when you attempt to work out at an intensity that your body is not yet ready for.
A robust and balanced core is essential for wellness, and it will go a long way in helping you breathe optimally during high-intensity workouts. Deep belly breaths are best at any time and especially recommended during activity. Consider this: many find that breathing shallow or just to the chest is more likely to result in a stitch.
A thorough warm-up is needed for any sports activity, as it will better prepare your entire body for the action to come and help prevent a stitch.
Place the palm of your hand on the painful area, and press firmly but gently. Many find that this method helps to reduce the pain from a stitch.
Slowly reduce your exercise intensity to bring your heart rate and breathing down gently. Then, bend at the waist so that your fingertips are reaching for your toes—work at having relaxed, complete, and slow breathing as you maintain this position.
It’s easy to let your breathing get away from you, so concentrate on breathing to your belly, which will utilize your diaphragm correctly. Try reducing your exercise intensity slowly in an effort to ease the intensity of the pain and to return to a relaxed, full breath.
Standing tall, gently lean over to one side while bringing your arm up and over your head. Your movements should be deliberate and slow. Then, repeat on the other side, and think of lengthening your torso and arm as you lean to each side.
While it can be challenging to prevent a stitch, there are many helpful tips and tricks available. You may need to experiment with these different methods to determine what will work best for you; to start with, try the many preventative strategies!