Sidestepping that side-stitch

Special to The Times

When I walk or run, I often get a pain in my side by my ribs. If I keep going, it sometimes will go away, but other times I have to stop exercising because it’s so uncomfortable. Any suggestions?


Costa Mesa

The pain that you described is often referred to as a “side-stitch.” Fitness experts disagree about what exactly causes this phenomenon, what you can do to prevent it -- and how to make it go away once it starts.


One school of thought suggests that this pain is caused by jarring on the ligaments that connect the stomach to the diaphragm. This is perhaps why side-stitches occur more during higher-impact activities such as running than during lower-impact activities such as cycling or swimming.

Other experts say that if you exercise too soon after eating or start exercising too vigorously, the diaphragm may cramp, which can cause pain under the rib cage.

Although there is no guaranteed way to avoid a side-stitch, here are a few suggestions that often work (in no particular order):

* Take a deep breath and then slowly exhale through pursed lips.


* Contract the abdominals while flexing the body toward the area of pain.

* Mix up your breathing pattern and stride pattern.

* Slow down and reduce your exercise intensity until the pain subsides.

* Jog in place and take a few moments to bend, twist and stretch the torso.


* You can also try extending your warmup period and taking more time to work up to your steady walking or running speed. This can be especially important in colder weather, when side-stitches may occur more frequently.

* Finally, drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise, but try sipping your water more often rather than taking big gulps at less frequent intervals.

Everyone is different, so try these suggestions -- and others you may have heard about -- until you find what works for you.

Although side-stitches are one of the mysteries of exercise, you might find your secret solution just by experimenting.



Jay Blahnik, a Laguna Beach- based personal trainer and IDEA Health & Fitness Assn. spokesman, has appeared in more than 25 videos and is the author of “Full-Body Flexibility.”

He can be reached at or