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Runner with side stitch

By Laura Chan

Most people have experienced a side stitch during a run at least once in their life. The exact cause however, is still unknown. Experts attribute stitches to a combination of the following - shallow breathing, diaphragm spasms, weak abdominal muscles, lack of blood electrolytes and gas traps in the large intestines.

Although not scientifically proven, here are four commonly adopted suggestions that runners have been following that helps prevent them from side stitches.

1. Not overeating before your run.

Avoid overeating or eating too close to a run. It may sound like common sense, but some runners still fail to observe this practice. You should only eat more than two hours before exercising.

Foods that are higher in fat and fibre take longer to digest and should be avoided before a run. Refer to the nutrition guide for runners for a more detailed look at what should go into a pre-run meal.

Some runners have pointed out that avoiding specific types of food has helped reduce side stitches. This however, varies among individuals so experimenting with a different diet may be necessary.

2. Learn proper breathing techniques

Many attribute side stitches to shallow or irregular breathing that affects the other organs. Learning proper breathing techniques may help prevent side stitches from occurring.

Some runners value the importance of breathing so much that in the early stage of their training, they focus on matching their breathing to the rhythm of their run, inhaling two to four strides before exhaling.

For more information refer to breathing tips for new runners.

When you experience a side stitch, try slowing down your pace and exhaling on the opposite foot of your stitch. For example, if your stitch is on your right side, exhale as your left foot hits the ground.

The rationale behind this is when you exhale in unison with your foot striking the ground, there is double the impact travelling up the body, which exacerbates the muscle spasms. When the landing forces are switched, the tension that causes the stitch is released.

3. Go through stretching exercises

Methods to stop the dreaded side stitch_runner stretching

There are many types of stretching exercises suggested but the fundamental idea is to carry out a proper and sufficient pre-run routine. Refer to how to prevent common walking and running injuries for why this is important.

The first of these suggested exercises is to extend both arms, bending your body sideways at the waist for 15 seconds on each side. This is similar to a side stretch but can be done while running.

Secondly, push your fingers deeply on the stitch or massage it while blowing out as hard as you can with your lips pursed. This combined breathing technique relaxes the muscles, relieves diaphragm pressure and increases blood flow.

4. Increase your stamina

One of the possible causes of a side stitch is weak abdominal and diaphragm muscles. But the good news is as your body adapts to training, the diaphragm is strengthened and you gain greater endurance.

This is why its important to start small and build up your running routine gradually when you first begin. Read more about this in our beginner's guide to running

Beginners should opt for long distance running with a regular pace rather than short sprints as it is easier for your muscles to gradually be accustomed to the demands of your workout.

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