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I have a big problem with side aches when I run. What should I do?
—David Bolt, Littleton, CO
This article appeared in our August 2010 issue.
As much as science has learned about our bodies, oddly, side “stitches” remain a bit of a mystery. And since they aren’t exactly life threatening, there hasn’t been a lot of studies on them. But there are theories: Too much fluid tugs on the abdominal ligaments, causing the pain; pumping legs put pressure on the diaphragm from below with pressure from rapid breathing above causing a pinch; and stretched ligaments in the area from breathing while pounding the ground result in the spasm.
Here are some suggestions: A 1999 study out of New Zealand says drink in smaller sips and rely on sports drinks since they are generally absorbed more quickly; and eat smaller amounts and not right before you run, avoiding high-fat foods. If you get a side stitch, bend forward slightly and tighten your abdominals, then exhale and breathe out forcefully while resisting the exhale through pursed lips. Or try reaching high with one arm at a time, leaning away from that side. One odd tip: Tighten something around your waist (Coach has found relief just by putting her hands on her waist and pushing in while exhaling and continuing to squeeze snugly). In this case, researchers reason, distraction from the pain may be the cure.