While running or walking briskly, nearly everyone has experienced the sharp pain in the side known as a stitch. Side stitches are muscle spasms of the diaphragm, and they occur occasionally during strenuous exercise. Most people experience stitches on their right side, immediately below the ribs.
Symptoms of Side Stitch
A sudden sharp pain during exercise that occurs below the bottom of the ribcage, usually on the right side, and fades once exercise stops.
What Causes Side Stitch?
No one is quite certain why stitches occur, though there’s no shortage of educated guesses. One theory is that the diaphragm (the large dome-shaped muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity) sometimes fails to receive enough blood during its contractions, and much like a leg cramp, this results in spasm and pain.
What If You Do Nothing?
Side stitches will go away on their own.
Home Remedies for Side Stitch
- Stop or slow down. Then bend forward and push your fingers into the painful area. These actions will force the diaphragm to relax and ease the spasm by increasing blood flow.
- Breathe deeply and exhale slowly. This should help relax the diaphragm.
- Stretch the abdominal muscles. Reach overhead and hold your arms in this position until the stitch disappears.
- Don’t eat and run. If stitches seem to hit you after a meal, wait 30 to 90 minutes after eating before you exercise.
- Before and during exercise, refrain from drinking concentrated fruit juices and beverages high in carbohydrates (such as added sugars).
- Decrease the intensity and increase the duration of workouts. This is especially true if you are just starting an exercise program. Stitches are more common in untrained exercisers than in well-trained athletes. If you increase your fitness level gradually, you can sidestep stitches.
- Warm up before exercising. Begin with five to 10 minutes of gentle jogging or calisthenics.
- Avoid shallow breathing. Shallow breathing uses only a small portion of your total lung capacity. When this occurs as you run, the diaphragm doesn’t descend far enough to allow the connective ligaments of the liver to relax, possibly causing a stitch.
- Practice deep breathing exercises. Lie down on the floor and place a hand on your abdomen. Breathe in deeply. You are “belly breathing” if you feel your hand rise slightly. If only your chest moves up, you are not breathing deeply enough.
- Try forced exhalation. As you run, periodically pretend you are blowing out candles. To do this, purse your lips while exhaling. This causes you to breathe deeply.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
This is a minor inconvenience that does not need medical attention.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media