What’s a “stitch in the side”?

If you’ve ever experienced a “stitch in the side,” you are not alone. Among runners, for example, nearly 70% have reported the pain according to research conducted in 2013.

by Matt Brzycki

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What’s a “stitch in the side”?
If you’ve ever experienced a “stitch in the side,” you are not alone. Among runners, for example, nearly 70% have reported the pain according to research conducted in 2013. Technically referred to as “exercise-related transient abdominal pain,” the condition arises in activities that involve repetitive movements of the torso, either laterally or rotary, when the torso is in an extended position.

The pain is localized in the mid- to upper-abdomen, especially along the edge of the ribs. Interestingly, the pain is up to twice as common on the right side as the left. There also seems to be an association between the abdominal pain and shoulder tip pain, almost always on the same side of the body. When severe, the pain is described as sharp or stabbing; when less severe, it is more like cramping, aching or pulling. The severity—and prevalence—decrease with advancing age.

Its etiology is subject to considerable debate. According to a long-held belief, the pain is due to a restricted supply of blood to the diaphragm—the main muscle that’s used in breathing—causing spasm. However, this theory has been discredited.

To reduce the risk of the condition, avoid consuming large volumes of food and drink for at least two hours prior to an activity. Try to restrict movement of the torso whenever possible. Finally, include exercises for the mid-section (abdominals and lower back) in workouts.

Bio: Matt Brzycki is the Assistant Director of Campus Recreation, Fitness at Princeton University. He has more than 30 years of experience at the collegiate level and has authored, co-authored and edited 17 books.

REFERENCES:
MORTON, D. AND CALLISTER, R. “EXERCISE-RELATED TRANSIENT ABDOMINAL PAIN (ETAP).” SPORTS MEDICINE, 45, NO. 1 (2015): 23-35.
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