The Sitch on the Stitch: Dealing with Side Stitch Pains

Young fit woman grabbing her side at the running track

Here’s the sitch: you’re barreling through your weekly run — wind in your hair, neighbors cheering you on, muscles feelin’ great. And then something hits you…or if we’re being descriptive, shivs you, right in your side. We’re talking of course about those awful side stitch pains that derail your near-perfect cardio sessions! 

The minute these gut-bustin’ twinges hit us, our minds get flooded with questions: Why me? Why now? Will I ever run again? Why are people looking at me? Why am I shouting in the street? 

Well have no fear, you sorry stitchers, because we’ve got all the answers you need! Let’s step to it…

What Is Side Stitch Pain?

A side stitch pain, otherwise known as exercise-related transient abdominal pain, occurs when you’re vigorously exercising and experience a sudden and sharp pain at the lower edge of your ribs. The pain is persistent and somewhat debilitating, but won’t take you out for extended periods of time. Side stitches typically occur during times of aerobic activity, including: running or jogging, playing athletic sports, intense strength training, even walking quickly up a flight of stairs.

Man in a yellow shirt grasping his side while running

What Causes Stitches in Your Side? 

Oddly enough, the exact cause of side stitch pain remains unknown. There are, however, a couple different popular theories: 

  • One common viewpoint is that side stitches are the result of diaphragm spasms. 
  • Another explanation is that when blood gets diverted from the abdominals, it causes cramping in the area. 
  • A different theory claims that ligaments attached to internal organs become overstretched during extended activity. 
  • A final reasoning is that friction between different tissue layers in your abdominal area are what causes side stitches. 

Even though the causes might be a bit cloudy, the pain of side stitches remains crystal clear, so let’s find out what to do about them!

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Fit woman sitting down on the running track

What to Do About Side Stitch Pains

When you’re feeling those achy, breaky side stabbies, there are a couple of tried-and-true techniques to help lessen the pain in no time. Try them in order the next time you’ve got a painful side stitch. 

Step 1: Slow It Down

No matter what you’re doing, reel it in. If you’re running, switch to a walk. If you’re lifting, put it down. If you’re climbing stairs, take a seat. 

Step 2: Breathe Deeply

Oxygen is one of the most effective elixirs out there. So once you’ve stopped doing that activity, take some deep gulps of that sweet ole’ O2

Step 3: Press on the Pain

Locate the side stitch pain, and gently press down on it. Start moving your fingers to gently massage the area and slowly bend towards the stitch.  

Step 4: Get Grunting

This one might seem silly, but trust us, it works! As you breathe deeply, massage and bend forward, and make loud grunting noises each time you breathe in and out. That side stitch pain should be going elsewhere in no time at all!

Fit young man drinking water before going for a run

Preventing Side Stitches

Now it’s one thing to deal with side stitch pain, but it’s maybe more optimal to actually avoid them altogether! Here are some common methods to side-step the side stitch: 

  • Don’t eat 2-3 hours before engaging in exercise
  • Don’t ingest sugary foods or drinks before working out
  • Stretch out your core by leaning side to side before your workout
  • Always make sure to stretch your entire body thoroughly before exercising
  • Breathe deeply through all of your athletic movements
  • Stay well hydrated a full 12 hours before exercising

Ok well we hope our guide to skipping those stitches is helpful! We hope it keeps you from moaning the day away, and helps you get back to sweatin’ up a storm. And if you’re looking for some inspiration to get you moving, sign up for a 7-Day Free Trial with Studio SWEAT onDemand. We’ve got an endless library of virtual fitness classes including Cycling, HIIT, Yoga, Bootcamp, Body Sculpting, Barre, TRX, and a whole lot more. Plus, all our classes are led by amazing instructors, whose enthusiasm and passion will keep you in stitches…but only the good kind!

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