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Runner's training tip #8: Preventing side stitches


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We've all suffered from side stiches or cramps during running at one time or another.  They are a bummer, but there are a few things you can try that will help to prevent them or get rid of them if they should plague you during your run.

There are a few things that contribute to side stitches.  Eating or drinking right before your run or not getting enough water, your breathing and not having strong core muscles.

Make sure you don't eat too much or drink too much before you run.  Definitely eat a light meal but no less than two hours before your run and take in your last bit of water an hour before you run.  Do make sure you've hydrated plenty prior to the hour before.

Your breathing should be rythmic and deep rather than sporadic and shallow.  Your diaphragm is attached to your internal organs (stomach, spleen and liver) by ligaments and reseachers have found that the stretching of these ligaments causes the diaphragm to have spasms. They say that people who tend to exhale when they step with their right foot tend to get side stitches more since the liver is on the right side and when the right foot hits the ground, this causes repeated stretching as the liver drops down...causing the diaphragm to spasm as it lifts up during the exhalation. Shallow breathing does not allow the ligaments to relax and the diaphragm becomes stressed which then causes the side stitch or cramping.   Deeper breathing allows the ligaments to relax and the diaphragm to stretch.

Ironmancab's photo

Some things you can do to alleviate the stitches once you get them are:

~Check your posture...don't hunch or slouch, keep your torso nice and tall. 

~Deepen your breathing...get a comfortable rythym going.  Exhale every couple of steps and relax. 

~If the stitch is not too painful....try to keep running but at a slower pace, with your hands raised above your head (this will lengthen your torso and allow your lungs to be able to expand more, taking in more oxygen and allowing the diaphragm to stretch).

~If you have to...stop running and walk until you get your breathing more rythmic and the stitch goes away.  Focus on some deep breaths while stretching your torso nice and tall.

~Try to massage your side or apply pressure to where the stitch is...sometimes that helps too.

~If you get the stitch when you exhale while landing on your right foot...switch to exhaling when you land on your left foot.  If you get the stitch when you exhale while landing on your left foot...switch to exhaling when you land on your right foot. 

~Strengthen your core/abdominal muscles.  Strong core muscles will keep your organs more firmly in place, so they don't tug so hard on your diaphragm.

In my experience, I have had side stitches on both my left and right side and switching to exhaling on the oposite foot, while checking my running form and making sure I'm running nice and tall....gets rid of the stitch every time!!  I always work my core muscles because they are the center of your body and will definitely help you have better form and endurance in running. 

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