A stitch is a pain in the abdomen (usually on the side) that’s brought on by exercise. It is medically known as Exercise-related Transient Abdominal Pain (ETAP) and the effects can range from sharp, stabbing pain to mild cramping, aching or pulling.
At some point in their lives, most athletes will suffer from this debilitating, if short lived, condition so what causes it and how can we prevent it?
The exact cause of a stitch is unknown, but the leading theories are a lack of blood supply to the intestines (because it has been sent to the muscles) or irritation of the membrane lining the abdominal cavity (caused by repetitive movement of the exercise).
Prevention techniques include:
• Avoid eating large meals, fatty foods or dairy products 1-2 hours before exercise (Morton et al 2005).
• Belly breathing (rather than chest breathing) may help.
• Warming up prior to exercise with some movements designed to improve flexibility in the mid-back (Morton et al 2004).
• Get fitter – stitches are less common (but not unknown) in more experienced athletes. Their occurrence also usually decreases as we age.
• Strong trunk muscles, especially the deeper abdominal muscles, the transverse abdominus, may help by offering more support to abdominal organs and improving your posture.
• Decrease the length of your workout and up the intensity instead.
If you do get a stitch whilst exercising, try the following. They usually calm down pretty quickly and you can carry on:
• If you’re running, take a break or slow down to a walk
• Breathe deeply and exhale slowly.
• Stretch your abdominal muscles by reaching one hand overhead.
• Stop moving and try pressing your fingers gently into the affected area while you bend your torso slightly forward.
• Stay hydrated while exercising, but avoid sugary sports drinks if they irritate your stomach.
If you need help and advice with any injury and want to talk it through, please feel free to contact me .