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5 best-practices for avoiding a stitch while out running

A stitch is a sharp or stabbing pain in the abdomen that can make you feel the need to slow down or stop running. It’s common in long-distance running, and can also cause pain in the shoulder or neck. But why do we get a stitches while running and, importantly, how can we prevent them?

When it comes to the cause of running stitches, there are two theories. Theory A is that the blood pumped to the limbs during exercise puts pressure on the diaphragm, causing the stitch. Whereas Theory B is that a stitch is caused by the body struggling to digest during exercise.

Either way, one thing for sure: a stitch can be super annoying. In this case, prevention is the best treatment, so here are our top 5 tips for how to stop stitch while you’re out running.

Strengthen your core

Having a strong core is great for a lot more than just preventing stitches. When it comes to running, it will help to improve form and posture. On top of this, a strong core can help to prevent you from getting a stitch by protecting your organs and giving you more control over your running pace. So, if you find that you regularly get a stitch when running, think about incorporating some core exercises into your routine. You won’t regret it, and these exercises will leave you well prepared for your next training run or race.

Woman doing bicycle crunch

Avoid big meals right before running

Theory B suggests that what we eat plays a huge role in whether we get a stitch or not, as it comes down to digestion. This highlights the importance of diet and nutrition when running. While it’s important to be well fuelled for your run, experts suggest avoiding eating a large meal too soon before you head out – especially if your meal is heavy on fat and fibre, which takes longer to digest. But, the digestion system is complex and there’s no “one size fits all”. Play around and find what works for you, whether that’s having a light pre-run meal, snacking en route or using energy gels to stay fuelled.

Focus on your breathing

A stitch is often related to the way we breathe when we’re running. This is to do with Theory A – that it’s all caused by the diaphragm. The idea is that shallow breathing, which comes from the chest, doesn’t give the muscles enough oxygen. But how does this knowledge help you? Well, if you focus on the quality of your breathing from the beginning of your run then you should be able to prevent a stitch from occurring. This means breathing in and out through your nose (where possible) and breathing deeply from your stomach, not your chest. Think of your breath as one fluid motion and try to maintain control.

Warm up

Seeing as a stitch can be linked to breathing, it’s important to prepare your body for the exercise you’re about to do. If you go from standing to sprinting without a warm up, you’ll find that your breathing is erratic and uncontrolled. If it’s cold outside, you might also find yourself struggling to breathe or seizing up. A warm up helps to prepare your body for exercise and lifts your heart rate gradually, regulating your breathing. Pre-run yoga is a great way to help focus the breath and warm the muscles up gently.

Stay hydrated

Did you know that a stitch can be triggered by fruit juice? This is due to sugar leaving the body. But, while you should avoid fruit juice and sugary drinks of that nature, it’s important to stay hydrated when running. Drinking water or a sports drink while running may prevent a stitch, as theories suggest a stitch can occur from dehydration. However, it’s also important to be aware that, while hydration is key, drinking too much water before a run could also trigger stomach pains due to excess water sloshing around. The best option is to hydrate gradually, drinking little and often before you head out on your run.

Runner drinking from her water bottle

What if you do get a stitch?

Don’t panic! Here are our top tips:

#1 – Stop running and touch your toes – it works, apparently!

#2 – “Exhale deeply and push your stomach out” – tip from Laura Hamzic from the NHS couch to 5K.

#3 – Put pressure on the area – and massage gently.

#4 – Stop and stretch – leaning away from the side of the stitch.

Just starting out on your running journey? Download our free 5km training plan to add some structure to your training.

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Briony is a writer currently living in London. While she spends a lot of time hunched over a desk trying to craft sentences, her other passion is running. She enjoys setting her own goals and is currently training for her second half marathon.

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