Side Stitch When Running – How to Prevent, Treat, and Beat Them!

Side stitches for runners are a crazy-annoying injury that every runner out there has experienced.

Who hasn’t felt that shooting pain in the side? 

It seems like they come out of nowhere.

You’re out enjoying your run, and then it happens.

Your feel like someone is punching you in the side or that your body is revolting.

Side stitches can make it difficult to breathe, and the pain can be bad enough that you can’t continue your run.

If you’ve ever experienced this dreaded running issue, then you’re not alone.

At least 70% of runners experienced a side stitch within the previous year.

The good news is that you can take some precautions to ensure that your next run won’t be sidelined by side stitches.

Here’s everything you need to know about side stitches – including how to prevent them, treat them, and beat them.

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Why You Get Side Stitches When You Run

There’s no definitive consensus on the actual cause of side stitches, but sports science has dug up a few clues.

The most likely root cause of side stitches is the rush of blood to your abdomen when you begin running.

This can happen if you are a new runner, or if you’re coming back after a break from the sport.

You may also not be taking very deep breaths, which causes your diaphragm muscles to fatigue very quickly.

Side stitches can also be caused by eating or drinking too much before a run, especially unhealthy, sugary foods and drinks.

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What Exactly is a Side Stitch?

The technical term for a side stitch is exercise-related transient abdominal pain, or ETAP.

That is a very fancy way of saying that part of your abdominals hurt.

This is usually caused by the muscles in your diaphragm spasming.

This leads to tension and spasms in the muscles and ligaments that are attached to your diaphragm.

Additional Causes of Side Stitches

Unfortunately, no one knows what exactly causes side stitches.

However, scientists have a few theories as to what can cause this frustrating pain.

Some research has shown that the lining of your abdominal and pelvic cavities can become irritated, which leads to pain during exercise.

This is because of the friction and movement in your torso that occurs when you run.

Side Stitch Symptoms

Side stitches can feel different for different people.

For most runners, they occur on the right side of the body.

Some runners feel a stitch as a sharp pain, almost as if someone is stabbing them.

Others report a cramping feeling or a dull ache.

A side stitch may also feel like someone is pulling on your muscles.

They tend to dissipate once you stop running and walk them off.

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Preventing Side Stitches

The latest sports science advice suggests that the best way to prevent side stitches is to avoid eating heavy, high-fat foods before your run.

Foods that are very high in fiber can also irritate your gut and should be avoided.

You should also avoid drinking too much before a run.

Limit yourself to water, and don’t get so full that you can feel the liquids sloshing around in your stomach.

Practicing good posture is another excellent way to prevent side stitches.

Runners whose spines are rounded have a higher chance of developing this condition.

Most of us struggle to maintain good posture because of our jobs, so take time during the day to straighten your spine and roll your shoulders back.

Doing back strengthening exercises at the gym, like rows and flies, can also help keep your posture in check.

Another way to prevent side stitches is to warm up slowly and practice your breathing while you run.

Instead of taking off, walk for a few minutes to get your body prepped for your workout.

Then focus on deep breathing – ensuring you use your entire lung capacity. Use a technique like the 2:2 method.

This will keep your breathing regular and prevent muscle spasms.

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Treating Side Stitches for Runners

There are several ways to combat side stitches, from during a run to before you even put your shoes on.

  • Take a Break. If you experience a side stitch while running, it’s time to take a walk break. If you force yourself to power through, you will probably just hurt more! You don’t need to lay down or sit unless the pain is very bad. Instead, take a few minutes to walk and assess whether you can continue your workout.
  • Rehydrate and Stretch. Are you dehydrated? Drink some water ASAP. Does it feel better to stretch? You may find it helps to raise the arm on the same side of the pain and then stretch your torso in both directions. This will give the irritated muscles a chance to relax and can help the pain go away.
  • Breathe and Massage. Many runners find relief by taking some deep breaths with their belly and slowly exhaling. Gently massaging the painful area by pressing your fingers into the muscles can also help. You can bend forward as you massage to ease the tension in your muscles.
  • Mix Up Your Plan. Another great way to treat side stitches in runners is to reevaluate your training plan. If you have a big race coming up or are training for a long-distance run, then you may have taken on an intense plan. As a result, you bit off a little more than you can chew. If so, you can decrease the number of miles you are running and do other forms of cardio instead. This will help increase your fitness without causing painful side stitches. (It will also ensure that you can finish a workout!) You can also focus on shorter, more intense runs, like track workouts. Side stitches usually happen on longer runs, so keeping your workouts short can keep them at bay.
  • See Your PT. If you find that your side stitches are a chronic problem, then see a physical therapist. They can help correct any imbalances in your body that may be causing poor form when you run. They can also help improve your posture and strengthen your abdomen and back.
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Fortunately, side stitches are usually not serious and will go away after a few minutes.

However, they can really put a dampener on your run, so they should be avoided!

Make sure you are hydrating and fuelling properly before your runs and spend time stretching and strengthening your core and back.

If you get a side stitch, don’t panic.

Take a rest and give your body a chance to recover.

Trying to push through a side stitch will not help.

Give your body a break and take a deep breath.

You will live to run again!

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

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