Prevent the Runner’s Side Stitch

Why do runners get side stitches (cramps) sometimes?  I went out for my Tuesday run last night, a normal 8-miler and a moderate pace (7:25) and I began to get a cramp in my right side about a mile into the run.  It was the first time in a long time I remember getting a cramp.  The pain got so intense that, twice, I stopped running to walk for a couple minutes, breathe deeply, and move on.  This helped to alleviate the pain, but the cramp never really went away.

I had a good run despite the nagging pain in my right side, but still couldn’t figure out what the cause was.  After all, I run four days per week and never get these cramps.  Granted, due to a tight schedule yesterday, I had to squeeze in my run at night, which I rarely do.  But I’ve run at night before and have never had a problem.  Was I dehydrated?  Did I eat too much for lunch?  Was I tight?

I decided to explore the possible causes so of course I can prevent something like this from happening again.  After all, this is how we learn, right?

After doing some research, I learned that these cramps, or side stitches, usually occur on the right side of a runner’s body.  This is because our diaphragm connects to our liver on our right side.  Experts aren’t in complete agreement about the exact cause, but the pain on the right side can be from the stretching of the ligaments that connect the diaphragm to the liver.  Runners who exhale when their right foot hits the ground put more stress on these ligaments and are more prone to getting side stitches.  Runners who exhale when their left foot hits the ground are less prone.  Personally, I’ve never paid attention to which foot hits the ground when I’m breathing in or out, and I don’t even know if my breathing and stepping are consistent.  However, since I’ve only gotten these side stitches a couple times in my running life, I’m not sure I buy into this theory.

More likely than the above theory, we probably get side stitches when we either eat too closely before our run or we don’t drink enough before our run.  Looking back at my case last night, I realize now that I had a larger than normal lunch and I was out of my office (normal environment) so I didn’t drink as much water as I normally do.  I’m confident that these two factors led to my cramping.  I usually run first thing in the morning on an empty stomach and after drinking a liter of water, so I’m usually fine.  But the night run really threw me off.

So now you know that you shouldn’t eat within two hours before your workout and you should always be well-hydrated before a run or other exercise.  But what are you to do if you still get a side stitch?

  • Slow down your breathing
  • Focus on breathing deeply
  • Holy your arms over your head to stretch out your torso
  • Slow down to a slow jog or walk, while focusing on your breathing
  • Stop for a couple minutes and focus on your breathing

These steps should rid you of your annoying side stitches and you’ll be able to continue your run.

For the runners out there, do you get side stitches regularly?  If so, what do you do about them?

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Filed under Exercise, Running

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