Reader to Reader: Stitch trouble


This week's question was emailed to us by forum member Little T, who gets a painful stitch every time she runs.

"I've just returned to running after four months off with an injury. Unfortunately, I'm getting really bad stitch each time I run – always in the same place, just under my ribcage on the right. I've tried everything to stop it – not eating for 2-3 hours before a run, eating a banana half an hour before, breathing out when my left foot strikes the floor, ditto with my right, relaxing my breathing, slowing down... nothing seems to help. I'm getting to the end of my tether!"Little T

Your best answers

  • Take a load off your diaphragm
    The common form of stitch encountered by runners occurs on the right side of the body, and it's due to a spasm of the diaphragm. The reason it happens on the right-hand side is the heavier weight of the organs attached on that side. What happens is that you get into a rhythmn of breathing out as the right foot hits the ground, which increases the load on the diaphragm and causes the spasm. If you encounter the problem, change to breathing out as the left foot hits the ground. To prevent the problem occuring in the first place, develop a breathing pattern that alternates between left and right. – emjaybee
  • Strengthen – and loosen – those abdominals
    I've suffered the same problem for about 10 months now, so I know how frustrating it is. Like you, in my experience it's not food/breathing/drinking/carrying stuff related. The only time I don't get it is if I'm running ONLY uphill, but running uphill all the time isn't really an option! I've seen two physios and a sports doctor, and all have suggested various abdominal/core strength exercises. They think it's perhaps a tight psoas or abdominal muscle, and have tried manually releasing these muscles. (You can do it yourself – basically just push on where it hurts while lying down until it releases a bit.) The latest physio thinks it is more of a postural thing, and that concentrating on running "tall", tilting my pelvis forward, and making sure I don't twist or swing one arm more than the other may help a bit. – Kristin Raw
  • Core strength = stitch-free insides
    I had this problem. I think it was to do with my core stability, as it happened no matter what! Keeping the stomach muscles taut helps keep all your innards from being tugged around. – Mellow Plodder
  • Right stitch = abs, left stitch = food
    Apparently if you get a stitch on your right, your abdominal muscles need strenghening. That'll come with more running or some ab exercises. If you get stitches on your left it's because of food/drink, because that's where your stomach is. – hopeless procrastinator
  • Boost your oxygen
    I was told as a young 'un that stitches are to do with lactic acid build-up, so more oxygen may help. Stay upright, slow down a bit and focus on breathing more deeply. That approach always works for me. – Martin Pace
  • Jab it better
    I've always found that jabbing my hand into my diaphragm, where the pain is, stops it because it stops the muscle cramping. Long, deep breaths, from the diaphragm, also help. – BunnyPhobia
  • Kill it with a pinch of salt
    When I get stitches it seems to be down to a lack of salt, so it may be worth trying to put a little salt into a drink. Other techniques include gripping the opposite hand to the stitch to take your mind off it. – Phillip Turrell
  • Try the three-hour rule
    I get stitch if I eat so much as a mouthful of food for three hours before running. If I try to run through it (as advised), it only makes me more prone to stitch on successive runs. I find the only way to prevent it is to not eat for at least three hours before running. It mkes planning runs all that more important/difficult, but worth it! – Maria Grundy
  • Hang in there – it might be a post-injury thing
    I get this problem whenever I'm starting again after a cold or injury. I've found it useful to cut down on liquid for an hour before my run, then taking water with me and having sips every 10 mins. Someone told me to put my arm up above my head on the opposite side to the stitch – it helps a little, but you usually have to slow down until it stops. Someone also told me to try touch my toes, but that made it worse! Ultimately I don't think there is a cure, just slow down and try jog through it. If you're like me, it'll stop once your fitness levels are back up to pre-injury levels. – Batmouse
  • Suck that gut
    If you have a gut, suck it in as tightly as you can while continuing to run. If you have no gut, pretend that you do, and suck it in tightly while continuing to run with a smug expression on your face! – cloudburst
  • A good bra cured my stitch
    I've been running for four months and have had exactly the same problem as you. Every time I went out I got a stitch no matter what I tried, including not eating/drinking for a couple of hours beforehand. Then two weeks ago I bought an underwired sports bra from M&S – quite expensive but it has done the trick for me and haven't had a stitch since. – Sal the slow
  • A handy tip
    Are you holding a drink in one hand for the whole run? I sometimes get a stitch if I don't change hands with the drinks bottle. – Aly
  • Hit the road in the morning
    I always get stitch when I run in the evenings. Since I changed to early mornings the problem has gone away. I drink water and eat a banana about 30 minutes before I run. – Jane Taylor
  • Breathe out as hard as you can
    I find that if I breathe out as hard as I can, then harder still until there is NO air in my lungs, the stitch will go away. You may need to do this a couple of times, but it never fails for me. – Wilkie
  • Imagine you're about to take a punch
    Try this one... continue running, but tense your stomach as if someone was about to hit you – make sure you keep breathing though! After a few mins the stitch should go away. Not sure about the physiology behind it (my mate came up with this one) but it works for me every time! – katkin
  • Try not to think about it
    I have found that I can prevent the onset of stitch with two things: 1. Start the run off at a slower pace (perhaps to do with the amount of oxygen you take in?); 2. Drink when you're running to avoid dehydration. If stitch does come on, try thinking about something else. The more you focus on it the worse it will feel. Good luck! – love pumpkin


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