You set off on your run, your watch beeps to let you know you’re on pace, and then ouch… there’s this stabbing pain in the side of your abdomen. It’s a stitch. (Again.)
Stitches are more common in beginner runners, but more experienced runners get them from time to time as well.
There’s no one possible cause of the dreaded stitch — but luckily, there are a few things you can do to stop them in their tracks for pain-free, non-abdomen-stabbing running.
How to get rid of a stitch when running:
Focus on proper breathing technique
Shallow breathing may cause a side stitch. Take a few deep breaths and focus on deep inhales from the belly.
Think of expanding your stomach with each breath — this may help alleviate the pain and get rid of your stitch!
It’s also generally sound advice to practise proper breathing technique when running. Get as much oxygen in as you can to increase blood supply to the diaphragm and working muscles.
Improve your posture
Bad posture and poor running technique (think: hunched over and tense shoulders), may be the main culprit behind your stitch.
Stand up straight and with a slight forward lean to propel yourself forward (this can also prevent heel striking).
Run like you’re attached to a piece of string that’s holding your body up vertically in a straight line — then add the slight lean.
Avoid food and sugary drinks directly before exercise
Eating or drinking before exercise increases the likelihood of a stitch.
Ideally, you should avoid anything too heavy before running. And that means no Coca-Cola or other sugary drinks or treats — save those for after your run.
Foods that are slow to digest (often high in fat and fibre) should also be avoided. If you haven’t fully digested your food, this could cause cramps. This is also why many runners prefer to run fasted (although there are other benefits, too).
Drink plenty of water in the hours before and after running to avoid dehydration — this can also cause cramps. Electrolytes are also useful to stop cramps on extra hot days or for those longer training sessions.
Take a break
Sometimes, when an unexpected stitch pops up, or rather, digs in, it’s best to take a quick breather — quite literally.
Focus on deep belly breaths and give yourself a moment to let the pain pass.
You can also gently push on the stitch (like your massaging it) to help ease the pain. But be careful not to make it worse.
Build up your running over time
If you’re new to running, you might have simply gone out too hard and too fast.
Ramping up the intensity (and volume) of your training may cause side cramping.
As a general rule of thumb: increase your weekly training volume by no more than 10% each week.
And if you’re a beginner, take it slow, focus on the basics, and allow plenty of time for recovery. You’ll get better with each run and will be less likely to get a stitch.
Can you prevent a stitch?
There are many things you can do to avoid a stitch, some of which we’ve listed above.
But to summarise:
- Avoid eating before running
- Stay hydrated to prevent cramps
- Practise good posture
- Slowly build up your running
How to get rid of a stitch (it’s key to pain-free running)
Running with a stitch can be painful. It can derail your workout, stop you from running an interval session, or hamstring you in the middle of your Sunday long run.
But knowing how to get rid of a stitch quickly is something all runners should know.
Take the preventative measures (and the actionable tips) mentioned in this blog post to keep those stitches at bay.
How do you get rid of a stitch in your side?
Focus on deep belly breathing to ease the pain. You can also gently push two fingers into your stitch and massage the pain — this will help it go away.
How long does a stitch last for?
Stitches are usually short and painful — they can last anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. If they last longer (for example, when not exercising), then speak to your doctor.
Should you keep exercising with a stitch?
You can continue to exercise with a stitch. But you may prefer to slow down or stop until the stitch has gone or is not as painful.