Side Stitches: The Cause And Cure

Thursday, February 6, 2020, in Wellness, Injury by

Just as you’re getting into your running groove, it hits – a side stitch. The best cure? Prevention. Side stitch is an intense stabbing pain that occurs under your rib cage while exercising, and can bring your workout to a grinding halt. While the exact cause of a side stitch is unknown, there are several theories. One theory is that blood flow is directed towards your limbs and away from your diaphragm during exercise causing it to spasm or cramp. This can impact your ability to breathe properly causing you to slow down, or even stop you in your tracks.

Here’s a few ways to ease the pain in your side:



A small snack before your run may help you feel energised and strong, but too much food or drink sloshing around in your stomach can create all kinds of problems including stomach cramps, and side stitches. It’s best to fuel up lightly before your run and avoid foods that are high in fat and fibre, as these nutrients take a long time to digest. A small bowl of cereal with milk ideally one hour before exercise will suffice. Remember, the perfect pre-workout snack is different for everyone, so experiment with a variety of foods and see what works for you.



Jumping straight out of bed and going full throttle can have you doubled over in pain faster than Usain Bolt. Your muscles and breathing rate need time to adjust to the intensity of your workout, so a gradual warm up is key. Take five to ten minutes to ease into your run and gradually build up your pace. Doing so will help create a regular breathing pattern, preventing the diaphragm from cramping.


The deep abdominal muscles and diaphragm become more fatigue resistant with training, so a stronger core equals fewer stitches and better breathing. Yoga and Pilates are both excellent for building your core and improving posture, which translates into better running biomechanics and efficiency. As an added bonus, a killer core also reduces the likelihood of injury.


Shallow breathing doesn’t bring in sufficient oxygen to your working muscles and diaphragm, causing you to cramp. Inhale and exhale fully by matching your breath to the beat of your stride, breathing in for three foot strikes and out for 2 foot strikes when running at a moderate pace, or using a 2:1 ratio for more vigorous speeds. If you do experience an intense stitch during your run, slow your pace, keep your posture upright and breathe deeply until the pain subsides.

Sarah is an accredited exercise physiologist, trainer, coach and speaker who specialises in women’s health and hormonal imbalances. She has a passion for helping women of all ages develop a healthy relationship with exercise and their bodies by training smarter, not harder, with movement that rejuvenates the body, not exhausts or depletes it.

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