Most runners have experienced the sharp, aching pain of a “side stitch” or cramp at one time or another while running. The actual cause of these annoying side pains is not 100% certain. A few camps exist owing this pesky pain to: irritation or cramping of the diaphragm muscle or the tissues that connect this muscle to your ribcage, eating or drinking before a run, and not warming up properly.
The eating and drinking part is the easiest to control, but what if your side stitch (cramp) isn’t due to an eating or drinking issue? Although there are a handful of theories behind this pesky cramp, there is hope.
Ridding yourself of a side stitch is pretty easy and best of all… you don’t have to stop running to stop it.
To understand what a side stitch is, it is important to understand the job of the diaphragm. This large, dome shaped muscle sits between your rib cage and the internal organs within your abdomen. The job of this muscle is to expand the rib cage as you breathe.
You can think of this muscle as the floor on which your lungs sit on. When you take a breath in, the diaphragm flattens out, expanding your rib cage. When you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes back to is resting, domed position. Here’s a video from Steve Gonser explaining the diaphragm and how you can “stretch” the diaphragm mid run:
A trick to getting rid of the cramp in your side is to exhale fully through pursed lips (like you’re blowing out a candle). This is key. You MUST fully exhale, allowing your diaphragm to stretch. The full exhale should be so extreme it brings you to the verge of coughing. Following full exhale you resume normal breathing.
How to Stop a Side Cramp, Stitch
By controlling your breathing and focusing on full breath cycles you are stretching out the diaphragm muscle. Just like your hamstrings and quads, the flexibility of the diaphragm muscle, or lack thereof, can have an impact your ability to run without pain or injury.