Running coach Sam Murphy answers your training questions
I keep getting a side stitch
What can I can do?
A stitch may not be a seriousaffliction like a torn musclebut boy, can it wreak havoc on yourrunning! Although any runner canbe affected, younger and lessexperienced runners tend to suffermore frequently. Unfortunately, nosingle cause – or solution – hasyet been identified; but there are anumber of factors worth exploring. Firstly, how strong are your coremuscles? A weak core puts morestress on the diaphragm (the musclethat facilitates breathing), which cancause it to tighten or go into spasm. Perform some basic core exercises(planks, side bridges) two to fourtimes a week if you can. Next, think about your posture. Astudy in the Journal of Science andMedicine found a stiff upper backand kyphotic posture (where theupper spine curves forward) wereboth associated with more frequentstitches, leading the researchers torecommend postural exercises toaddress these shortfalls. Rolling outyour upper back on a foam rollerbefore a run, and stretching out overthe roller longways afterwards willhelp mobilise your thoracic spine.
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Also, consider what and when youeat. Researchers suggest avoidingrunning within two hours of a mealyou’re susceptible to stitches – stickto small amounts and avoid foodshigh in fibre, sugar and fat. Onestudy found fruit juice was linkedto a higher risk of stitches.Finally, make sure you warmup thoroughly. Insufficient oxygendelivery to the breathing musclescan cause cramping, while a shallowor irregular breathing pattern is morelikely to flip the switch than a strongregular rhythm. While I don’t havefirm evidence to back this up, I’dalso recommend some breathingexercises outside of running time.The more efficient your breathingmuscles, the less oxygen they haveto divert from the working musclesIf the game plan fails and you doget a stitch, slow your pace a littleand try to breathe through it. Somerunners find it helpful to switch theirbreathing pattern to exhale as thefoot on the opposite side to the stitch lands (for example, if your stitch is on the right, you exhale as your left foot hits the ground). My preferred remedy is to gently knead the sore area while I walk along.
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