21 Apr A painful stitch is never in time…

As the massage and physio partner for the Great Women’s 10k in Glasgow, we’re offering exclusive rates to all those entered – just call us to find out how we can help you arrive at the start line best prepared and get to the finish line safely and quickly!

We’ll be offering a series of helpful (we hope!) articles over the coming weeks leading up to race-day, when we’re providing complimentary pre and post race massage and physio help. 

 If training has stalled, or injury is hampering you just call. If you’re unsure what shape you’re in and need reassurance or some guidance, pop in. If you keep getting a stitch, read on…

An estimated 70% of regular runners suffer from a stitch or exercise related transient abdominal pain to give it its Sunday name! And it’s not just runners who get a stitch – just about any sporting activity can bring on that sharp, annoying and limiting abdominal discomfort. Frequently, the pain is intense enough to force the athlete to stop exercising.

Folklore is full of reasons why they happen and how to get rid of them. Here’s the perceived wisdom however; during running the internal organs (such as the liver, stomach and bowel) have an impact on the diaphragm (the large dome-shaped sheet of muscle which separates the chest from the abdomen). Movement of the diaphragm is vital during breathing. Interestingly, studies have found that about 15% of runners feel discomfort during running in their shoulder blade rather that their abdomen. This fits the diaphragm theory, as the shoulder blade discomfort would be ‘referred pain’, in much the same way that people having a heart attack can have referred pain in their arm. But we digress.

So what is happening to the diaphragm when we exercise to cause such sharp and debilitating pain? The internal organs are not held firmly in place but are supported by relatively weak ligaments allowing movement within the abdominal cavity. During exercise these organs move, pulling downward on the diaphragm, producing spasm and pain. The diaphragm is moving upwards when we breathe out and it is this opposing movement that can result in the spasm.

So what can we do to prevent a stitch? The best advice is to try to change your breathing pattern. When most of us run we coordinate our stride and breathing so that the same foot hits the ground when we breathe in and then when we breathe out. This can lead to problems as the diaphragm springs out with each exhalation. So if the stitch is on the left side, exhale when you plant the right foot.

Other tips include grunting when you breathe out (this may ‘loosen’ the diaphragm), strengthening your abdominal muscles and avoiding too much food and water prior to running (a full heavy stomach may pull the diaphragm down). Stitches occur more often when we are tense, such as before an important race, so always try to relax and take deep breaths. Remember to have a good warm-up, don’t set off at too fast a pace and, if possible, run on a softer surface. Stitches also seem to be more common on cool days and running downhill.

If a stitch forces you to stop, try lying on your back with your hips and legs elevated – this may not result in a PB but it could stop the pain!

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