Running Doesn’t Have to Leave you In Stitches

You’re running along at a quick pace, feeling good, when all of a sudden it strikes: the dreaded side stitch. Usually located in the upper abdomen or at the base of the ribs, this sharp pain is the bane of many a runner on their way to loggin a personal record. It strikes without warning, often leaving its victim unable to contnue until it passes. Some are more likely to be struck than others. A survey of 260 runners, cyclists, swimmers, rowers and aerobics participants found that runners were most likely to experience side stitch pain, while those least likely were rowers. This supports the hypothesis made more than 40 years ago that stitch pain is caused by the jarring and tugging on the ligaments that attach the gut to the diaphram. Recent medical texts, however, cite a digestion related metaboic origin for the stitch.

Researchers at the University of Otago, Dundein, New Zealand, set out to determine both the cause of and means of relieving the side stitch. They found that the following factors affect the development of side stitch pain:

* participant’s fitness level

* conditioning to the activity

* food or fluids recently consumed

* intensity of the activity

Anyone who has experienced a side stitch has likely tried several means to get rid of it. While each individual is different, the following methods were found to be effective in relieving the pain of side stitch:

* bending forward and tightening, the abdominal muscles (even while running)

* breathing through pursed lips with full lungs

* tightening a belt around the waist

*decreasing intensity of activity until pain diminishes. Resume speed or intensity once you feel comfortable.

By determining ways to alleviate side stitch pain, researchers developed a better understanding of the cause. Relief appears to result from changes in posture, thereby reducing the load on the visceral ligaments. Side stitch pain, researchers concluded , is more likely caused by the jarring of the ligaments, as was originally theorized many years ago, than by digestion.

When the pain of a side stitich strikes, it is unlikely you will care whether or not it is  ligamentous or metabolic in origin. Getting rid of the pain is all that matters. Keep in mind that, in adddition to the measures cited above, researchers found that strong abdominal muscles are also an effecitve means for warding off side stitch pain. Experiment and find out what works best for your body. Drink smaller amounts of fluid at more frequent intevals or eat after instead of before exerciseing. While you can never completely prevent the onset of a side stitch, you can reduce the odds of it occuriring.

Daryl Conant, M.Ed.