Why Do You Sometimes Get a Pain in Your Side When You Run?
The sharp pain that you sometimes feel in your side when you’re running is called a stitch. A stitch is often caused by overworking a large muscle under the lungs called the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle that separates the organs in your abdominal cavity from the heart and lungs in your chest cavity.
The diaphragm’s function is to help the muscles between the ribs pump air in and out of the lungs as you breathe. When you run, you breathe harder than usual, and the diaphragm becomes tired. That’s when your side can start to hurt. You may also feel a pain in your neck or shoulder. The pain will go away when you slow down or after you’ve rested.
Almost everyone occasionally gets side stitches, painful side cramps during exercise–although some people seem more prone to them than others. You can avoid stitches by minimizing stress on the diaphragm.
Here’s what experts recommend:
Belly Breathe: If you consistently take shallow breaths, your diaphragm remains in the “up” position, so your connective ligaments don’t get a chance to relax. Instead, breathe evenly and deeply, drawing air deep into your lungs so your belly rises, your diaphragm dips, and your ligaments get a rest.
Go Easy on the Downhill: Walking or running downhill increases the force on your body with every foot strike. Avoid long downhill routes if side stitches are a recurrent problem for you.
Eat Lightly: Avoid heavy meals for 3 hours prior to your workout. If you need a light snack, have it 1 hour before heading out the door. Continue drinking fluids, however. They leave the stomach quickly and hydrate you, thus helping to prevent cramping.
Ease Up: Sometimes stitches are the result of too much too soon. If you start to feel a stitch coming on, slow your pace and relax your body until the feeling subsides. Gradually increase your effort until you can walk or jog pain- free.
Reach for the Sky: Stretching your diaphragm muscles is as important as stretching your hamstrings. Raise your right arm straight overhead. Then bend your torso to the left. Hold 20 to 30 seconds. Switch sides. Perform this stretch daily.
Switch Sides: Many people fall into a rhythm of always exhaling as the same leg strikes the ground. For instance, they start inhaling during their left foot strike, and four footsteps later, begin exhaling when their right foot comes down. Consistently exhaling on the same side can contribute to side stitches. Try inhaling one extra beat than you exhale (inhale 1-2-3, exhale 1-2), so you alternately breathe in and out on opposite legs.
Rub It Out: When a stitch strikes, massage or press on the area where you feel pain, while bending forward slightly. If the pain persists, stop exercising, and massage and stretch the area until the cramp subsides. Continue on at a lower intensity.
Purse Your Lips: A popular method for both avoiding and alleviating side stitches is to purse your lips (as though blowing out birthday candles) while you exercise. No one knows exactly why it works, though it may help you focus on your breathing, especially on deep exhalations and inhalations that allow the diaphragm to move through its full range of motion.