While running or walking briskly, nearly everyone has experienced the sharp pain in the side known as a stitch. A side stitch is a localized pain, often occurring during strenuous exercise, especially running and swimming, and other activities that involve repetitive movement of the torso. (The medical terms for a side stitch is exercise-related transient abdominal pain.) Most people experience stitches on their right side, immediately below the ribs.
Symptoms of a side stitch
A side stitch is marked by a sudden sharp pain during exercise that occurs below the bottom of the ribcage, usually on the right side, and fades once exercise stops.
What causes a side stitch?
No one is quite certain why stitches occur, though there’s no shortage of educated guesses. One currently prevalent theory is that it’s due to friction between the two tissue layers in the abdomen: one layer covers the organs, and one lines the wall of the abdomen. It’s believed that perhaps a full stomach may contribute to this friction.
What if you do nothing?
Side stitches will go away on their own.
Home remedies for side stitches
- Stop or slow down. Then bend forward and push your fingers into the painful area.
- Breathe deeply and exhale slowly.
- Stretch the abdominal muscles. Reach overhead and hold your arms in this position until the stitch disappears.
How to prevent side stitches
- Don’t eat and run. If stitches seem to hit you after a meal, wait two to four hours after eating a large meal before exercising.
- Avoid eating high-fat or high-fiber foods before exercising.
- Avoid drinking high-sugar beverages or large quantities of any beverage all at once before exercising.
- Improving your posture when exercising may help; a physical therapist can make suggestions after observing you during exercise.
- Decrease the intensity and increase the duration of workouts. This is especially useful if you are just starting an exercise program. Some research points to stitches being more common in untrained exercisers than in well-trained athletes, though well-conditioned athletes are not immune to stitches. If you increase your fitness level gradually, you might be able to sidestep stitches.
When to call your doctor
A side stitch is a minor inconvenience that does not need medical attention.
Also see Get Fit Without Getting Hurt.