If we knew how to deal with side stitches when running, we TOTALLY could have cut 20 minutes off our marathon time. But now there’s no excuse– we can’t blame those sharp abdominal pains because we asked our Fitness Expert Kristy Wilson how to prevent them and she delivered:

Expert’s Take

Kristy Wilson, NSCA, NASM: A side stitch is felt as a sharp pain, just underneath the ribcage, that generally leaves us clutching at our sides in a great deal of pain. Generally, they’re believed to be a muscle spasm of the diaphragm and most often occur when running or swimming.

While there is no definite reason for why side stitches occur, there are several theories including a relation to what and when we eat before exercise, there are a few ways to help prevent them from occurring:

Breathe deeply: Side stitches occur quite often as a result of shallow breathing. When exercising, focus on taking deep breaths and breathing slowly. Periodically exhaling through pursed lips while running is a technique that has been found quite successful in preventing side stitches by many runners.

Start slowly: Trying to exercise at too high of an intensity too soon can cause short, shallow breaths– and hence a side stitch. Increase your intensity gradually as your fitness level improves.

Train your core: Having strong abdominal muscles can help prevent side stitches. One of my personal favorite ways to strengthen the abdominal muscles is by doing Pilates 2-3 days each week.

Time your meals appropriately: Exercising on a full stomach can make people more susceptible to side stitches. Drinking reconstituted fruit juices and other beverages high in carbohydrates before and during exercise are also big contributors.

A side stitch generally isn’t serious and relief can be felt fairly quickly. If experience a stitch breathing deeply, slowing down the pace, stretching (leaning away from side with the stitch) and massaging the painful area can all help provide some relief. However, if pain persists and/or you begin experiencing pain radiating down your left arm, consult your doctor.