Great Trails of South Africa

Run, Interrupted…


At school, my hockey coach’s immediate method to cure
a stitch while on a training run was to raise one’s arms and breathe in deeply
and slowly, but I never knew what caused it – I put it down to me not putting
in the hard yards. Simply put, during a run, the body bounces up and down
creating friction of the abdominal wall and organs (particularly the liver).
It’s a natural movement but when you’re out of form and fitness, it can cause
extra pulling on your diaphragm.


“The side stitch is simply an irritation of the parietal
, which is a membrane forming the lining of the
abdominal cavity
,” says Dr Joao Da Silva. “This membrane supports those
abdominal organs. So when you’re running, the localised pain you experience is
the rubbing together of the lining and organs. The only way to curb this
contraction is to slow down and rest.”


Like any other pain on a run, it should be treated as
a warning sign. “When people are unfit and not used to distance, then these stitches
can be more frequent,” explains Dr Da Silva. “You can strengthen your diaphragm
with abdominal and oblique exercises in the gym, and instant cooling of your
sides after a run can also alleviate the pain, but if the pain is still there
when you’ve stopped, it could be something else, so you should see your doctor.
Don’t run through the pain!”



Breathe easy: Make sure your breathing is regular on a
high-intensity run.
If you’re pushing yourself too
hard, your breathing will automatically become shallow, which puts extra pressure on the diaphragm, shutting off bloodflow and
creating that ‘pinch’ under your ribcage. If you get a side stitch often, practise
belly-breathing on the run, which will lower and relax your diaphragm.

Stretch it out: extend your right
arm upwards and hold for a few seconds. As with any other cramp, massaging the
pain will also increase bloodflow, alleviating the contraction.

Stopping your run: Runners are stubborn
enough to “run through it,” but it’s important to take any pain as a warning.
If the pain subsides, then you can carry on at a slower pace. If not, it’s best
to pack it up before you injure yourself.

Work on your speed and strength: Concentrating on abdominal and lower back exercises can also help you
out with stitches. The tighter the muscles are in your core, the less movement
of the organs and lining. And training to go fast will allow you to go fast in
races without getting a stitch.

Food and drink: Stay hydrated
throughout your run, because less water means there’s less oxygen and less
bloodflow to your muscles. Avoid heavy meals three hours before your run, as a full
stomach will place added pressure on your diaphragm.


It’s all about preparing yourself for the mileage
you’ve trained for. Don’t set out to do a time that you haven’t trained for,
and make sure your intensity relates to your fitness. If you still get a
stitch, slow down, breathe easy, and it’ll pass!