So you're on your favorite running trail and jammin' out to the tunes surging through your headphones. You're feeling great and just getting in your groove when — BAM! — a side stitch hits you hard. Apart from the throbbing pain in your side, side stitches are super annoying because they take your mind off your run and focus it instead on the pain. Here's what side stitches mean and how to prevent them.
A side stitch or cramp is a muscle spasm of the diaphragm, which is instrumental in breathing and can get fatigued. The cramp affects the diaphragm muscle, the supporting ligaments, tendons and surrounding connective tissue. According to WebMD, side cramps are a result of shallow breathing, and are a little alarm letting you know that you're not taking deep enough breaths. It could also be the result of an imbalance of blood electrolytes (mainly calcium, potassium and sodium).
To avoid side stitches, first put your hands on your stomach and take deep breaths. If you're breathing from your lower lungs, your stomach should rise and fall. After a while, if that doesn't work, stop running and press two fingers in and slightly upward directly where you feel the pain. Hold that for about ten seconds while breathing deeply. Move your fingers all around the edge of your ribs up to the sternum. You could also try stretching to relieve the cramp. If the cramp is on your right side, raise your right hand and lean to your left. Do the opposite if the cramp is on your left side. When the pain subsides, slowly begin to run again and gradually pick up the pace. Side stitches often originate because your running pace is too fast in the beginning of your run.
Another helpful tip to remember is to avoid eating one to two hours before running. You'll also want to increase your water intake throughout the day to ensure that your body is properly hydrated, and don't forget about warming up and stretching! A good warmup could separate a solid run from a solid waste of time and energy. Learn more about warming up here.