Runners know all too well the intense pain of a side stitch. Most often they occur under your rib, but they can also show up on the tip of your shoulder blade. Although they are not fully understood, one theory claims the ligaments of abdominal organs pull on the diaphragm and cause pain. Your diaphragm is a sheet of muscle under the ribs that plays an important role in breathing, so it’s no wonder then that a stitch can bring any runner to a rapid halt! Regardless of the cause, understanding how to prevent and fix a stitch is an essential tool for any avid runner.
Preventing stitches begins with pre-run nutrition. It’s essential to allow plenty of time for food to digest and to avoid high fiber as well as high fat foods for at least two hours before your run. Easy to digest options like a peanut butter bagel with banana, yogurt with berries, or a protein shake can provide your body the carbohydrates and proteins it needs to fuel your run. Keep in mind everyone is different, however one runner’s pre-workout fuel can be another’s flub, so make sure to be consistent whether training or racing.
It’s also important to give your body ample time to warm up and gradually increase your speed. It’s believed this helps to prime your body and steady breathing patterns that may otherwise miss-fire and contribute to painful stitches.
Establishing a running rhythm, that includes breathing, to your stride is also important for improving performance. Since most stitches occur on the right side, exhaling as your left foot strikes and inhaling with the right foot strike is a helpful habit to practice to prevent a stitch from showing up.
If you happen to get a stitch, slow down and exhale as the foot on the opposite side strikes in rhythm. You may also benefit by taking a pause to stretch by raising your hands overhead and reaching from side to side. If you seem to get them regularly, keep a record of what, and how much you ate before your run to see if specific foods may be the culprit.
Sarah Mattison Berndt, MS, RD, CD
Owner Fit Fresh Cuisine & Hybrid Athletic Club