How To Avoid A Stitch While Running

You’re out for your weekly long run or tempo run, enjoying pushing your body and feeling your muscles push you forward, harder and faster. Then, from nowhere, you get an awful pain in your side or chest, leaving you gasping in pain. Yes, we’re talking about a stitch.

A runner’s stitch is a sharp, cramping pain in the side that’s commonly experienced. We’ve all had at least one experience like this. It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned runner or just getting started; getting a stitch can be a frustrating and painful experience that can cause your run to slow down or even come to a complete halt. 

But why do you get a stitch in the middle of your run? And more importantly, what can you do to prevent them from happening while you’re out on a run?

What Causes a Stitch Mid-Run?

How to avoid a stitch while running

A stitch, also referred to as exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), is a common occurrence for runners, particularly those who are still relatively new to the sport or are pushing themselves harder than they typically would.

Although the exact reason for stitches while running is not fully understood, several factors contribute to the onset of these painful symptoms.

Incorrect breathing technique is a common factor in the development of stitches. When we run, we take shorter, shallower breaths, leading to a contraction of the diaphragm, which causes a stitch in the chest. When you run at high intensities, your body may start anaerobic respiration, which produces lactic acid and other waste products that may cause a stitch.

Eating or drinking too close to the start of a run is another contributing factor. When you eat, a portion of your blood flow travels to your digestive system to aid digestion. When you start running too soon after eating, you reduce the amount of blood flowing to your diaphragm and other organs, resulting in a stitch in your chest or abdomen. 

Running on a full stomach or when dehydrated increases the risk of getting a stitch, so try to avoid doing either of those things if you can. Running on a full stomach puts pressure on your diaphragm, and dehydration causes electrolyte imbalances and muscle cramps. Running on a full stomach also places pressure on your lungs. 

How to Avoid a Stitch While Running

So are there any precautions you can take to avoid a stitch if it’s a recurring problem? Yes!

If this is a recurrent issue, several preventative measures can help to reduce the likelihood of developing a stitch. These include:

Perform a Warm-up Before You Run

Starting each run with a warm-up helps improve your breathing technique and increase blood flow to your muscles, decreasing the likelihood of a stitch during your run. 

Hydrate Before and After Your Run

Staying hydrated before and during your run helps prevent muscle cramps and reduce the likelihood of developing a stitch. If you stay hydrated before and during your run, you will have a better chance of avoiding these issues. 

Eat at the Appropriate Time

To give your body enough time to digest your food, you should try to eat at least two hours before running. If you absolutely must eat before you run, choose foods that are simple to digest, such as bananas or oatmeal. 

Take Slow, Deep Breaths

Improving your breathing technique and lowering the risk of getting a stitch can be accomplished by concentrating on taking slow, deep breaths in a rhythmic pattern. 

Improve Your Endurance

Develop your endurance gradually​ by slowly increasing the intensity and duration of your runs. This helps to develop your stamina and decrease the likelihood that you will experience a stitch while you are running. 

Effective Methods of Getting Rid of a Stitch Mid-Race

Getting a stitch in the middle of a competition is a frustrating and unpleasant experience. However, various steps can help alleviate the pain and get you back to running as soon as possible. These include:

  1. Slow down: It may help lessen the pain’s intensity and give your body a chance to recover if you take a short break or slow down the pace at which you move. 
  2. Change your breathing technique: Concentrating on taking slow, deep breaths in a rhythmic pattern helps reduce the spasms in your diaphragm, which alleviate the pain. 
  3. Massage the affected area: It may be possible to alleviate some of the discomfort and promote better blood flow by massaging the region surrounding the stitch. 
  4. Stretch: You might find that stretching your abdominal muscles and taking some deep breaths helps to alleviate the pain and allows you to get back to running. 

It is essential to be aware that if you experience stitches frequently or severely, this could indicate a more serious underlying medical condition, such as acid reflux or an injury to the diaphragm. You should consult a medical professional for an evaluation if you are experiencing pain or discomfort that does not go away consistently.

Preventative Measures to Reduce Stitches For Runners

In addition to these techniques, you can take several preventative steps to lower your chances of getting a stitch while competing in a race. These include:

Stick To Your Routine

Maintain the same pre-race routine that has proven successful for you in the past. This may help to alleviate any unnecessary stress or anxiety that may have been a factor in the onset of a stitch. 

Stay Hydrated

Maintaining adequate hydration throughout the day is essential to ward off the onset of painful muscle cramps and reduce the risk of a stitch. You must consume a sufficient amount of water both before and during the race. 

Avoid Overeating

Before the race, it’s important to avoid overeating and stick to foods that are easy to digest. Consuming a large meal immediately before a race has been shown to increase the risk of experiencing a stitch as it puts pressure on the diaphragm. Avoid foods that are known for slowing you down

Incorporate Core Exercises Into Your Training

By building up your core strength, you improve your breathing technique and decrease the likelihood of getting a stitch. 

Gradually Increase the Intensity and Duration of Your Training

Improving your overall fitness decreases the likelihood of developing a stitch by working to build up your endurance over time and increasing the intensity of your workouts. 

How To Beat The Stitch

For runners, experiencing a stitch is an uncomfortable and unwanted experience. But several preventative measures can be taken to lessen the likelihood of developing one. You can reduce the onset of stitches during your runs by concentrating on proper breathing techniques, maintaining adequate hydration, and adhering to a consistent training routine. 

These are all things that you can do while running.

And if you do end up getting a stitch in the middle of a race, slowing down, adjusting your breathing, and stretching are all things that help alleviate the pain and get you back on your feet so you can finish the race in good form.

If you properly prepare yourself and employ the appropriate running techniques, you can accomplish your running goals without the discomfort of a stitch.

Author Profile

Thalia Oosthuizen

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Thalia started running during the the pandemic as a way of getting out of the house. The running bug bit, and now much of her life revolves around everything to do with running - videos, podcasts, studies, books, articles, and interviews. She's also done several courses on running nutrition and mechanics to aid in her training and advising others.
Thalia Oosthuizen

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