Side stitches, classified as exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP). Ranging from a dull cramp to a stabbing pain, side stitches can quickly turn a good workout into an agonizing chore. Pain is usually felt on the right side and can run the entire length of the abdomen. Additionally, localized pain can be felt in other areas of the body.
How Does a Side Stitch Occur?
The onset of a side stitch is unknown, however, it is thought that these cramp-like spasms occur when the diaphragm is overworked or are due to irritation in the pelvic cavity and lining of the abdomen. Commonly felt during prolonged periods of exercise, over 70 percent of runners have reported suffering through a side stitch yearly.
Shoulder cramps often occur simultaneously with side stitches, inferring irritation in the abdomen can cause multiple locations of pain.
Side stitches can affect even the most experienced athletes. Things like eating a large meal before a workout, consuming sugary sports drinks, and dehydration can lead to cramps. Further research, from the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, has identified poor posture during exercise can cause more frequent occurrences of side stitches as well as more severe pain in the abdomen.
How to Prevent the Onset of Side Stitches
In order to prevent a side stitch, you must begin prepping for a workout 2-3 hours in advance.
- Avoid eating foods high in fat and fiber within the hours before exercising.
- Avoid sugary drinks before a workout and begin hydrating with water at least 3 hours before your workout. Read more about healthy alternative electrolyte supplements for water.
- Decrease the time of your workout. (You can increase the intensity to receive similar results).
- If a runner, slowly increases the duration or mileage of your run week by week.
- Practice good posture throughout the day, and especially during your workout.
- Increasing your fitness overall can also help reduce the frequency of side stitches. More experienced athletes report less cramping than amateurs.
How to Treat a Side Stitch
If you have followed the above suggestions and still find yourself suffering through pain during your workout, there are some things you can do to decrease the severity of the cramping.
- Slow down. Take a deep breath. Listening to your body during a workout is crucial. So, if you feel a side stitch during your workout, take it easy.
- Focus on your breath. Taking deep inhales and slow exhales and helps relax the muscles in your diaphragm and abdomen, reducing muscle spasms.
- Stretch the area of pain. Reaching your arms overhead lean away from the side body of which you feel the spasms. Breath into these muscles and actively feel them relax.
- Massage the area of pain. Slowly press your fingers into your side to release the tension and relieve pain.
- Finally, HYDRATE!!! Hydrate before, during, after, and in your sleep. Keeping your muscles hydrated prevents the spasm of cramping.
- The main message is to listen to your body and to be kind to your muscles. Intense workouts can put your body through serious stress. Signals of pain is your body telling you to slow down. Know your ability and prepare accordingly.