So you’re jogging along, happy and free, when suddenly you feel a sharp pain in your side below the rib cage. You try to “push through the pain” because you’re not a wimp, damnit, but it gets worse and eventually you have to slow down or stop altogether. Are your intestines bailing out because they’re tired of putting up with all of this so-called “healthy activity”? Not exactly. You’re experiencing what are commonly known as side stitches. An estimated 30% of people who exercise feel these pains, and only recently have those clever members of the medical community come up with a good explanation.
The bouncing motion of running while breathing causes the ligaments holding up the internal organs in your gut to stretch, and the stretching combined with the flexing of the diaphragm induces painful stress on these ligaments. If a person exhales when their right foot hits the ground, then the liver which is located on the right side is on its way down while the diaphragm is on its way up to exhale. This creates a large force on the ligaments holding the liver. Approximately 30% of people exhale in this manner, and these people are more prone to stitches.
So if you breathe the wrong way are you doomed to go though life at a leisurely pace? No! There are techniques to stop and prevent stitches.
How to stop a side stitch:
Slow down to a walk and place your hand on the right side of your abdomen. Grip and push up, inhaling and exhaling evenly and slowly.
Change your breathing pattern. Focus on exhaling when landing on your left foot, and breath slower and deeper for a while.
If the pain persists, slow down the activity or stop all together and stretch or massage the area until the pain subsides.
How to prevent stitches:
Try not to eat or drink large amounts right before exercising. Allow at least an hour after a big meal.
Stretch your abdomen before you exercise. Raise your arm straight up and bend your trunk in the opposite direction of the arm. Hold for 30 seconds.
Make sure to warm up properly and at a gradual pace, especially in cold environments.
Keep exercising: People who are in better shape tend to not experience side stitches as often. Don’t get discouraged!
Strengthen you abdominal muscles. There have been reports that this helps, though it is not precisely clear why. Abdominal muscle tone may help support internal organs and keep them from jumping around too much.
BlueDragon says bending down and touching toes also alleviates this - but a bit hard to do without stopping running ;)