How to Get Rid of Side Aches when Running

Two Methods:Taking Precautions to Prevent CrampingTaking Steps to Alleviate Cramping

Somewhere around 30 percent of runners will experience a side ache at some point while running.[1] Runners usually experience this side cramping as a sharp pain just under the ribcage. Also known as “side stitches” amongst runners, the pain is actually caused by diaphragm muscles spasming.[2] The key to avoiding side stitches is to avoid pre-run activities that can cause the diaphragm to spasm during your run, but you can also take steps to help alleviate the cramps when they strike.

Method 1
Taking Precautions to Prevent Cramping

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    Do not run right after eating. The available studies behind the cause of side stitches point to the stretching of certain ligaments around the diaphragm due to the up-and-down jolting impact associated with running (also referred to as gut tugs).[3] Eating shortly before a run adds more weight and matter to tug at and stretch those ligaments, which can cause cramping.[4]
    • You should avoid full meals at least two hours (and up to four hours depending on your experience with the cramping) before a run.[5] You should also avoid even small food items starting one hour before you run.[6]
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    Stay hydrated. Dehydration is a common cause of cramping for runners.[7] Though not specifically related to gut tugging, dehydration can lead to cramping in the sides, calves, or other areas necessary for a runner to perform. Drink plenty of water and don’t forget to hydrate during longer runs in addition to before them.
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    Do not drink too much liquid directly before a run. Though staying hydrated is essential to avoiding muscle cramping while running, drinking too much can have the opposite effect. Fluids sloshing around can lead to tugging on ligaments the same way that food can. Studies have shown that drinking large amounts of any drink—from water to sports drinks to soda—before a run can lead to side cramping.[8]
    • However, the intensity of the cramping increase with heavier, sugary drinks, including soda and fruit juices.[9][10]
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    Strengthen your core muscles. This is a long-term step toward alleviating side stitches, but strengthening your abdominal and lower back muscles will tighten up your core in a way that decreases the ligament stretching responsible for the cramping.[11]
    • Planks and pushups are great exercises for tightening core muscles.[12] For information of strengthening your core muscles, visit How to Strengthen Your Core.
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    Warm up before you run. The way you breathe during a run has an effect on your diaphragm and the ligaments that can lead to cramping. A warmup that allows you to increase your running speed gradually helps you control your breathing in a way that minimizes the risk of cramping.[13]
    • Start with a brisk walk before leading into a jog, and then finally running. For more info on proper warm-up exercises before running, take a look at How to Warm up for Running.
    • This is especially true when running in cold conditions when you’re more likely to breathe erratically during the initial portion of your run unless you’ve done a warmup.[14]
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    Take full, deep breaths as you run. Short, shallow breathing keeps the diaphragm in a higher position that puts more stress on the connective ligaments.[15] By taking deeper breaths, you lower your diaphragm in a way that can decrease the risk of cramping.[16] Try to remain mindful of your breathing during your run.
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    Take it easier down steep hills. As your momentum increases down a steep hill, you make harder impacts with each step, which increases the gut tugging responsible for diaphragm spasms. Try jogging down especially steep hills rather than going full force.[17]

Method 2
Taking Steps to Alleviate Cramping

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    Slow down your pace. You probably won’t want to keep going at full speed with a cramp regardless, but slow down your pace when a cramp comes on.[18] The lower impact of the slower pace will immediately reduce the up-and-down tugging and ligament stretching behind the cramp.
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    Take several rapid deep breaths. For the same reason that deep breathing can help prevent cramping, it can also help alleviate cramps once they start. Quickly take in a deep breath, which will force down your diaphragm and relieve the stress on the surrounding ligaments.[19] Hold the breath for several seconds, then exhale with force through pursed lips.[20]
    • Repeat several times until the cramp goes away.
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    Tighten your abdominal muscles. If deep breathing alone doesn’t help alleviate the pain after several seconds, try bending over—which can help you expel each breath more fully—and tightening your abdominal muscles as you do.[21] These combined actions can help reduce the stress on your diaphragm even further to stop the cramping.
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    Tighten a belt around your waist. While not particularly helpful during a run away from home, tightening a belt around your waist has also proven helpful in stopping pain related to side stitches.[22] Try this if your have a home treadmill or remember to bring a belt to the gym with you.
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    Hold the area beneath the pain firmly. If you don’t have a belt handy, simply try using your hand to firmly grasp the area on your waist below the pain.[23] Side stitches are almost always on one side of the body (typically right) with the pain centered just below the ribcage. As you exhale, pinch this area between your thumb and fingers, and then relax your grip as you inhale.[24]
    • This may not work as effectively as a belt, but combined with deep breathing, it should alleviate the cramp in five or six breaths.[25]

Tips

  • Some physicians also believe that a spinal dysfunction can increase stress on the diaphragm and surrounding ligaments. If the above suggestions do not seem to help and you suffer from chronic cramping during runs, consider seeing a physical therapist or a chiropractor to check the alignment of your spine.[26]

Sources and Citations

  1. http://www.bodyresults.com/e2sidestitches.asp.
  2. http://www.bodyresults.com/e2sidestitches.asp
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10449020
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Article Info

Categories: Pain Management and Recovery