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Dealing With Side Stitches

Side Stitches

Stitches are caused by a muscle spasm of the diaphragm. The organs under the diaphragm are bouncing up and down and pulling the diaphragm down as it wants to pull up. The liver is the biggest culprit which explains why most stitches are on the right side. A stomach full of food may also add to the problem. Stitches also occur more often when running downhill or in cold weather.

What Can I Do?

Exhale when your left foot strikes the ground instead of when the right foot strikes so that the organs on the right side of the abdomen are moving up when the diaphragm is going up. The organs attached to the bottom of the diaphragm on the left aren't as big, so there will be less downward pulling. If this does not help you get rid of it, stop and raise you arms above your head until the pain goes away. When you resume running , switch to exhalling when your left foot strikes the ground. if your stitch occurs on the left side, switch your breathing to exhale on the right foot.

Don't plan to eat anything for an hour before running if you get stitches, You can drink water as it empties from the stomach faster than solids and you do not want to risk of complications from dehydration.

In the meantime, exercises to strengthen the abdominal muscles can help because tighter abs allow less movement of internal organs. Practice belly breathing instead of chest breathing. Stitches do lessen over time.
They usually will go away after a few weeks of conditioning.


If you wish to learn how to belly-breathe, you should lie on the floor and place one or more large books on your stomach. Concentrate on making the books rise when you enhale and fall when you exhale. It can take 8-12 weeks to learn how to do this.
Therefore it is important to start practicing well before an important race.

©Women in Motion

Pages updated May 22.2001