Running, hiking, fast walking and even swimming can create that terrible “side stitch,” or cramp. Side stitches usually affect the right side, but occasionally can be felt on the left or even as shoulder or upper back pain. Before you decide to call it quits, there are a few things you can do to avoid and get rid of these stitches.
One of the main theories pertaining to side stitches centers on diaphragm spasms. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped organ that basically creates a barrier between your chest cavity and your internal organs. When you inhale, your lungs fill and your diaphragm presses down. Upon exhaling, the lungs deflate and your diaphragm lifts. During vigorous exercise, your organs strain against your diaphragm while it is lifting, to support the lungs as you exhale.
The liver is likely the biggest culprit here. There are two ligaments that attach the liver and the diaphragm. So why do you need to know this? The liver is located on the upper right side of your abdomen. That’s usually where the side stitch hits and leaves you doubled-over in agony. When this happens, stop moving, lean forward and push up on your right upper abdominals, just below your rib cage. Then take some deep breaths with pursed lips. This allows the connective ligaments of the liver to relax. Your side stitch will then go away.
That’s what you do to get rid of them; but let’s take a step back and learn how to avoid side stitches in the first place! It’s not that hard, if you just follow these steps:
Breathe deeper. Slow your breathing and relax your shoulders and face while you move. Try out the technique of exhaling when your left foot hits the ground. Interestingly, side stitches are more common among people who exhale on the right. Pay attention to how you breathe while alternating your different steps, and you might find this simple change could make a huge difference.
Walk down hills. Running downhill is another common cause of side stitches. As you run downhill, you alter your posture and lean back. Take your downhills slowly, and work up to a faster pace.
Don’t eat within an hour of vigorous exercise. Just like mom used to say, “stay out of the pool for an hour after you eat.” That’s good advice. When you’ve just eaten, your body is focused on digestion. That leaves your sides more apt to stitch.
Stay hydrated. Muscle cramps in general can be directly related to dehydration. Drink at least 10 to 12 ounces of water 30 minutes before you exercise. And remember, hydration is cumulative. If you let yourself become dehydrated, it can take up to two days to re-hydrate. You can’t just gulp down an extra bottle of water and be good to go. Keep your fluid intake on your priority list, and drink around 70 to 80 ounces daily.
Watch your posture. Avoid rounding your shoulders while you run, walk or hike. When your posture is rounded, you limit your breathing capacity, creating shallow breaths. Stay tall and fill those lungs.
These simple steps can help those who suffer frequently with side stitches. They’re useful for young athletes as well. Your kids are heading back to the mandatory one-mile run, whether they like it or not. Prepare them ahead of time, and they’ll have more pain-free success as a result.
Chani Overstreet is an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and co-owner of Strada Fitness & Wellness Center with her husband, Luke. Strada is a state-of-the-art fitness studio located at 3041 Churchill Drive, Suite 100, in Flower Mound, across from Lifetime Fitness. Call 972.330.4300 or visit www.StradaFitness.com for more information.