You’re in a race, you’re through the first kilometre, you‘re feeling good and your pace is brilliant. Today is the day you’ll smash that PB. And then you get a stabbing pain in the side that completely ruins your day! Stitches are an affliction that lots of new runners, and some seasoned runners, suffer from. I hope this blog will take that suffering away.
What Causes A Stitch When Running?
There is no definitive answer to this, but there are two very plausible explanations: One explanation is a lack of blood flow in the diaphragm, which causes cramps. This is due to the heart being busy pumping much needed blood to the limbs. Another explanation is that the pain is the body having a hard time digesting fluid whilst running. Both explanations sound logical. Perhaps both are correct!
How Can You Avoid A Stitch Whilst Running?
Here are a few good tips:
Warm up properly. Sudden sharp intakes of breath can increase the chance of a stitch so warming up your lungs (and your legs) with some easy running and a gradual increase in pace will remove this cause. Very cold air can also bring on a stitch so, when it’s really cold, consider wearing a buff or a jacket or top that covers your neck.
Work on your core. Stitches are common in running, but not cycling, due to the fact that your stomach and diaphragm move up and down and side to side as you run. Having a stronger core, with particular emphasis on the obliques (see this blog post on the importance of core strength) will stop rotational movement as you run.
Don’t eat too soon before a run, particularly if you intend to run quickly. Also be careful what you drink: Sports drinks can give you a stitch, so consider watering them down. If you’re doing a fast session try to avoid drinking during the session. If it’s a hot day then sip, rather than glug, your drink in between reps.
Get fit! The fitter you are, the less likely you are to get a stitch. So, if you’re new to running, don’t let the stitches put you off. They’ll become less frequent as you progress.
How Can You Get Rid Of a Stitch When Running?
I can’t vouch for this one, but apparently reaching down and touching your toes works – you’ll have to stop running first of course! However, this may not be convenient, especially if you are in a race, so here are a couple of other ways:
Use your thumb or two fingers together to rub around the stitch in a circular motion. This will either stimulate the blood flow or dislodge the fluid, depending on what theory of the causes of stitches you believe.
A very experienced, successful, Coach at my club told me the best way to get rid of them, without disturbing your rhythm, was to hit the ground hard with your foot on the opposite side of the stitch and breathe out forcefully as you do it. I think this works. Focussing on this will at least take your mind off your stitch anyway!
Depending on who you believe, stitches are either caused by poor blood flow to the diaphragm or the body struggling to digest fluids
You can avoid stitches by; warming up properly, covering your neck on very cold days, watering down sports drinks, sipping fluids rather than glugging them and working on your core, particularly your obliques
You can get rid of stitches by stopping and touching your toes, rubbing in a circular motion around the stitch, or by breathing out forcefully as you hit the ground hard with your foot on the opposite side to the stitch