Last Updated: April 12, 2016
By: Taira Jordan
With racing season on the horizon, we wanted to cover an important running topic: how to prevent the dreaded side stitch. You know the feeling: you’re midway through your run and suddenly you feel a sharp pain starting to grow in your side. Try as you might to keep running, the pain in your side continues to grow, causing you to clutch your side and making each inhaled breath laborious and painful. Forced to slow down, you concentrate on your breathing until the ache goes away. While there are multiple causes of side cramps, you can help prevent them through proper training and run preparation.
Side stitches occur when your body is under too much stress and often befall beginning runners and those who are increasing their pace or distance. As side cramping happens more in sports where the upper body is heavily utilized, such as running and swimming, you can decrease the likelihood of a side stitch by developing a stronger core. In addition to less cramping, a strong core will make you more resilient to fatigue and less vulnerable to injuries. You should plan for a regular regime of core-strength building exercises and include exercises such as planks, donkey kicks, yoga and Pilates.
Just like swimmers who breathe in sequence when their heads are out of water, runners should learn to match their breathing to their strides. To prevent your diaphragm muscles from becoming overstressed, you should inhale fully and deeply to increase the depth of your breath. As a rule of thumb, the faster your pace, the shorter the time between breaths. For a fast pace, you should take one or two strides per breath while a slower pace needs three or four strides for each breath.
It may seem minor but what you eat before a run can have a big effect on your run and is very important in preventing side stitches. When your body is digesting food, less blood flows to your diaphragm, making you more prone to side spasms. Foods higher in fat and fiber take longer to digest and should not be eaten within two hours of the start of a run. A light meal of a banana and oatmeal are ideal pre-run foods as they are easy for your body to digest and provide an essential carbohydrate boost.
Once you’re ready to begin your run, you should warm-up by gradually increasing your pace to prevent irregular, short breaths. Start with fast paced walking for a couple minutes and then work into easy running. After a few minutes of easy running, you are ready to run at your normal running pace. If you do get a side stitch while running, decrease your pace and exhale as the foot on the opposite side of the stitch hits the ground until the spasm goes away.