You've been dealing with side stitches while you're running and you want to know what can I do about it? Well, I'm Jesse Funk and on today's episode of Runner's High, I'm going to tell you about what science has to tell us about them, and what you can do about them.
I’ve got good news and bad news so let's start with the rough part. And that is that we don't yet know exactly what causes side stitches. As a younger runner this always baffled me. And I thought, I mean, it's like a muscle cramp Why the hell do we not know what is going on when we have a side stitch? It seems so simple. But it also illuminates the idea that in science and in medicine, we don't know everything yet, and that's okay. We have a methodology, which is science to try to figure these things out.
Fortunately, even though we don't yet know all the mechanisms of the underlying cause, we actually have a few things we can try to troubleshoot it that works for the vast majority of people. The first step to figuring out what's going on and to troubleshoot your issues, are to think about what are you eating and drinking before you go run. Immediately before, maybe a couple of hours before, and keeping a food journal for the next few weeks to try to identify any kind of patterns is going to be your key to figuring this part out.
I know, I like to think myself, hey, I remember everything that I ate before I went and ran. But the truth is, we don't always remember exactly everything. And maybe there's something within those particular foods, even if they're different foods that you're eating that cause, that's giving you trouble.
So, keep that food journal for a couple of weeks, identify those days, hey I’ve had side stitches today, keep it along with what the workout was. If it's a particularly hard workout, or an easy workout, or an easy workout. After workout, trying to identify any kind of pattern is the key to you getting rid of the side stitch.
I know one thing that I often talked about with my high school teammates, and my college teammates, obviously, this is anecdotal, a lot of these things are anecdotal, is dehydration is being a culprit for side stitches. So, along with keeping track of that food and your workouts, you may try to keep track of how much you're drinking, what kind of electrolyte intake you're doing, and see if that has any correlation to your side stitch as well. If this side stitch is, in fact, a muscle cramp, it would make sense that some kind of fluid or electrolyte imbalance is causing it.
One possible cause I've seen suggested by some doctors is actually an overload in your diaphragm from symmetrical breathing. So, what does that mean? What am I talking about? I'm talking about when you breathe, you're always breathing on the same foot. So, if you breathe every four steps, or every two steps, and you're always breathing, say on your right side are always breathing on your left side, depending on how you started that.
So, the way to troubleshoot this particular thing is to breathe asymmetrically. Meaning you're going to say breathe in on one foot strike, and then breathe out on two foot strikes, and through that pattern, you can switch sides, so you're breathing in on every other side. And it may be the opposite for you, it maybe breathing in two steps, breathing out one step, it depends on what you're more comfortable with.
The reality of this suggestion, though, is that if you're like me, I know that it's going to be uncomfortable to change your breathing pattern, and that may not last for a long period of time.
You may not be able to say, I'm always going to breathe asymmetrically. And I actually don't suggest trying to change your breathing pattern physically or manually like that for the whole duration of the run. But it may be good to try to figure out if that's the cause, and then work on developing aerobic capacity.
As your aerobic capacity increases, then the pattern with what you breathe or how you breathe will change naturally over time mean. You can develop it on top of just running. If you spend time in the pool, that's going to help you build your aerobic system. Any other aerobic activities is not necessarily running can help increase that capacity.
My last suggestion for troubleshooting what's going on with your side stitch is actually going to be to stretch. So, let's suppose that here on my right side, that I have a side stitch. So, what you're going to do is take your right arm, reach up over your head, take your other arm, that would be the left side, in this case. Hold this arm, preferably at the elbow, and then pull to the left side. So, the opposite side of whichever way you're having that issue.
The idea being that you're trying to stretch out those muscles and stretch out the fascia around those muscles. So, the sheath that goes around your muscles that holds them together, holds them in place. Because the idea is there's possibly a cramp there, or some kind of hang-up with the fascia around the muscle and that's causing the side stitch.
So, using those tips that I give you this video, try those out, see if solve your problem. If it doesn't, one of the things do you think you can try one of the things, have you tried what other anecdotal evidence can we put together to try to solve this issue and figure out how to get rid of your side stitches forever. Leave them in the comments below, let me know. I'll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.