A runner with a stitch. Place your fingers on the area affected and press or stop altogether

Dealing with a stitch, the one that hurts

Why do I get a stitch?

When putting a client through his paces recently, in this extremely cold weather we’ve been having, he experienced a stitch. A stitch! Yes a stitch. I thought these things only happened in the 1980’s, when we were young and out running at a good pace? I’ve not had a stitch since I was 14 years old and I’m nearly 43.

We had warmed up and he explained to me he had been having major cramping issues too. I explained that as he is not exercising regularly enough, pushing himself and working on his endurance, his cramps will continue. I explained he needed to stretch a lot more often too. Getting cramping tablets from his doctor was not the long-term answer. He needs to improve his lifestyle in general before the cramping and the stitch stop.

Digressing slightly from why we get a stitch, cramping is a common issues for some of us and stops us in our tracks too. Without getting too technical, this why we need to increase our lactate threshold.

Cramping happens as result of no oxygen left in our muscles which allows lactic acid to build up. As I mentioned above if we exercise regularly, stretch after a work out and build up our endurance and stamina, we delay the onset of lactic acid and in some cases notice it happens a lot less often. Where there’s oxygen, lactic acid is nowhere to be seen. I may experience some mild to extreme cramping every so often.

Back to the stitch. I was not sure of the medical reasons behind a stitch. It seems there are two theories. Only theories as doctors are not even sure themselves.

Woman runner with a stitch after running to improve her aerobic fitness

Medical theories for why a stitch happens?

1. Doctors say that as blood is pumped around the body as we warm up or exercise, the diaphragm becomes weaker. This weakness is due to a reduction in blood supply to the diaphragm. With a reduction in blood supply, a stitch occurs

2. The other theory is a stitch is caused due to ‘fluids that the body finds difficult to breakdown’. As the gut needs to work harder to digest the food, this causes the gut to pull on the ligaments that connect to the diaphragm. This pulling leads to a stitch

What to do if you get a stitch?

To nullify a stitch, warming up slowly and starting off slowly if you plan on going for a long run, swim or bike ride.

I explained to my client he needed to stop. He was in pain after all and his only option was to stop. Every time he restarted, the pain came back. I remember this when I was 14!

Apart from working on your fitness and improving your diet, (this is why I don’t have stitches any more I’m sure of it. This is my theory.), applying pressure to the affected area (usually a lateral pain between your pelvis and latissimus dorsi) is what is recommended. Using your fingers, apply sufficient pressure and the pain should disappear.

You could always try and run it off but I tended to find this did not work and was a painful way to get through it all.

End your stitch for good

The more you work at your fitness by exercising more regularly, increasing its intensity and following exercise prescription best practice, a stitch is one of many things that you’ll be able to kick into touch. Fat loss, better muscle definition, change in mood swings and feeling more positive about things are some of the things a lifestyle change can lead too.