Everyone has experienced it at some point or another, you are comfortably jogging along, or out on your regular cycle, then BAM! Side stitch! The side stitch is the bane of most cardio workouts, and a constant source of frustration. But what causes it? And how can it be avoided?
What makes the side stitch so infuriating is that it is not actually known what precisely causes it. All there is, is a few theories. To being with, it is worth noting that it is most common when walking, jogging or running. Although exercises like cycling or rowing can cause it, it is much less likely.
The first theory is that it is a cramp in the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a thin muscular membrane that separates the chest cavity from your abdominal organs, and is used to force air out of your lungs, in conjunction with the intercostal muscle between your ribs. It is thought that the jarring motion of running puts strain on the diaphragm from below, whilst the increased rate of rapid breathing puts pressure on it from above, causing a pinching effect - results in pain and cramping.
Another theory is that the motion of running puts strain on the ligaments that extend between the diaphragm and the internal organs, such as the liver. These ligaments are stretched when you run, resulting in a stitch.
Lastly, is also theorised that eating fatty food could but extra pressure on the diaphragm, making a stich more likely during exercise.
Whatever the cause is, knowing how to avoid and treat it can make a huge difference to your work out. So here are out tips for evading the infamous side stitch:
1. Controlled Belly Breathing
The onset of a side stitch tends to hit when you start taking large gulping breaths. As hard as it may be, try to control your breathing and draw it with your belly. Doing this may take potential pressure of the diaphragm, as well as maximise oxygen intake. Your chest should remain mostly still.
2. Allow Your Self Time to Digest
Make sure that when you eat, it is a low fat, moderately sized meal consumed at least 2-3 hours before you exercise. This will give your body the time it needs to fully digest your food and refocus its energy.
3. Warm Up and Stretch
Make sure to warm up and stretch before you do any exercise. In particular, stretch your sides. To do this, raise your left arm and then lean to the right, holding for 20-30 seconds, and then repeat, raising your right arm and leaning to the left.
4. Strengthen Your Core
Perform exercises that will strengthen your core muscles. This will help improve the integrity of the diaphragm, making it more resilient to fatigue and cramp.
5. Poke and Blow
If worst comes to worst, and a side stitch has set in, you can use the ‘poke and blow’ method to help alleviate it. To do this you need to push your fingers deeply into your belly, just below the ribs on the side affected. Whilst doing this, purse your lips and blow out as hard as you can.
Due to the fact that the true nature of the side stitch is not fully understood, there is no guaranteed way of preventing it. However, with the above you should be well armed enough to increase your chances of avoiding this painful and frustrating cramp, and maximise your chances of exercising uninterrupted.