Why Do I Get a Stitch When I Run? 3 Possible Explanations & 6 Ways to Prevent/Ease It

Most runners will have experienced the dreaded “stitch” at some point in their training (or racing). It is a sharp pain  felt in the side of the abdomen that can sometimes even force you to stop running (no matter how many times people tell you to run through it) 

So, what is a stitch and what can you do to prevent it or at least ease the pain when it does happen ?

You may be surprised to hear that no one knows for certain what cause us to get a stitch  but there are a few theories  which all revolve around the diaphragm (the main muscle involved in breathing.

(1) Poor breathing technique 

Particularly prominent in beginner runners (or any runner who has not yet mastered the correct breathing technique), it is believed that inefficient use of the diaphragm to control breathing during running can cause discomfort/cramping in the diaphragm.

(2) Blood diverted to limbs (i.e. away from the diaphragm) 

When we run, our body increase the supply of blood sent out to our limbs to carry the necessary fuel to the muscles. This process diverts blood away from the diaphragm therefore reducing the blood supply directly to this important muscle, causing it to cramp.

(3) Stomach tension (caused by digestion of food) 

Eating too soon before a run, or eating foods that your body has to work harder to digest can result in the gut tugging on the ligaments that connect it to the diaphragm.

So what we do to prevent it happening?

(1) Improve your breathing technique to ensure you are utilising your diaphragm efficiently. Whether you suffer from a stitch or not, it is still really important to ensure you are breathing efficiently when running. Correct breathing is an area that I focus on with all my running clients – particularly if an assessment of their technique shows this to be an area of concern.

(2) Ensure you leave at least 1.5 hours after a meal before you go out for a run. Your body needs time to process the food effectively before you start exercising! You may even find it beneficial to avoid particularly rich foods in a pre-run meal (high fat or high fibre can be a factor).

But what can I do if it does happen?

Here are a few suggestions for you to try:

(1) A stitch usually affects one side of the body so stretch out that side by lifting the arm on the affected side straight up in the air and lean towards the opposite side. Hold this stretch whilst breathing deeply for a minute (or longer if needed).

(2) Force yourself to breathe out hard (forcefully) when the foot on the side that has the problem, strikes the ground on landing. This method requires you to be able to keep running through the pain though.

(3) Stop running completely and reach forward to touch your toes.

(4) Apply firm pressure to the painful area using your fingers – this can relieve the immediate pain.

So there you have it – the dreaded stitch explained (as best as I can anyway). I would love to hear about your experiences and which of these techniques work best for you… Or maybe you have your own technique that you would be willing to share?


Best wishes