Ah, stitches: the dreaded, sharp tugs at various parts of your abdominal area when you run is like the devil on a quest to prevent you from being fitter.
Despite the many anecdotal reasons for stitches, you’d be surprised to know there is actually no one conclusive reasoning for the occurrence of stitches. It really is based on individual level of fitness, medical history, personal habits and many more.
Many past sufferers of stitches have reported being able to “break free” from it by simply bearing with the pain; it will dissipate once you get fitter. However, based on personal experience, there are many other elements that might cause stitches such as the following:
1. Drinking too much water before a run
Too much fluid puts additional stress on the muscles that support the stomach, which causes the body to cramp. Avoid over-hydrating yourself by drinking too much water right before a run, or substitute it with energy or a sports drink that will give you the appropriate nutrients without too much fluid.
2. Eating foods too rich in fibre and fats before a run
Because your body is already functioning at a higher capacity to digest these foods that take a longer time and more energy, engaging in physical activity such as a strenuous run could put it further under pressure and cause your body to cramp up. While it’s important to get your regular dose of fibre and healthy fats, try to avoid consuming them (yes, even the fruit juices!) two to three hours before a run to give your body more time to digest.
3. Going without a warm-up
This is especially so for people working sedentary jobs or those who are trying to get on a regular fitness routine. It’s all about building your pace slowly, because going from your regular 80 to 120 heartbeats per minute quickly could cause the muscles in your body to cramp and result in stitches. Invest five minutes in a good warm-up, and always start slow before picking up the pace.
4. Not building your core strength
Running, like activities such as swimming, are heavily dependent on your upper body (specifically the core) strength. Having stronger oblique muscles will help prevent side stitches for that very reason, so start working on those crunches, Russian twists and leg lifts!
5. Inconsistency in your running regime
Like everything else, consistency is key in running. When you practise running regularly, your muscles becomes more attuned to the motions, your stamina improves, and your breathing becomes less laboured. This will mean your muscles will cramp up less often as they begin to get used to functioning at that activity level, greatly reducing stitches.