How to cure side stitch during exercise

Fit & Training door roos FG

Let me tell you how to cure side stitch (or side cramps)! You know, that painful cramp you get in the side of your stomach, during exercise or running. I received a couple of messages from Fit Girls all around the world, and it seems like we all have the same problem. Well, here's why, and here's how to cure it.

Why we get side stitch: Getting anatomical!
There are a few different theories on why we get side cramps. It's still a bit of a mystery... Personally, I believe it's a combination of these options:

1 - Diaphragm cramp

The diaphragm is a very strong muscle that divides our stomach from our chest. It's our main respiratory muscle. Side cramps are believed to be caused by cramp of this muscle. That's why we get cramps, especially while we're at the maximum of our abilities: running extra hard or really pushing our limits.


2 - Colon spasm
The colon is the last part of your intestine. It runs from the right lower side of you belly, all the way up to the stomach region, and then over the left upper corner of your abdomen, and then all the way down. When your colon forms more gas than usual, due to digestion of a heavy meal, gasses will tend to concentrate in that left upper corner as you exercise. This can cause a colon spasm, which will feel like an annoying cramp.


3 - Spleen cramp
There is some evidence that the spleen (in the upper left part of your belly) swells up and squeezes in extra red blood cells into the blood stream when you workout, to make sure your oxygen transport stays awesome. This is called autotransfusion and may be one of the reasons you get a side stitch on the left side while working your butt off.

4- Other muscles

Ofcourse we're not just moving our diaphragm when we exercise. A lot of other muscles on your chest, back and abdomen may cramp up: especially when you're breathing heavily or working your arm muscles. For example, as shown in the picture: the serratus anterior muscle plays a big role in breathing and raising your arms up. My latest side stitch was last month, during a heavy Zumba class, and that's no coincidence!

How do we avoid side stitch: Cure your cramp!

Well, since you now have some knowledge about why we get these cramps, it's easy to find the solutions!

- Slow down! Instinctively, this will feel right. No matter the exact cause of your cramp: slowing down will decrease your body's oxygen need, making it easier for your body to recover.
- Massage the side of your chest: Starting from the armpit, massage the side of your chest, passing all your ribs. Found the painfull spot? Take a deep breath, while massaging this area for a moment.
- Massage your diaphragm by leaning forward and massaging the part just under the ribs.
- Avoid big meals before working out to prevent colon spasm.
- Stay in control of your breath: Avoid respiratory "peaks" and choose a steady-state tempo, especially if you're new to fitness. Keep having cramps? Try yoga or breathing
exercises before bed time.
- Raise your arms to stretch your serratus muscles and take a deep breath.

Note: If you have any continuous health problems, or if you get these pains while resting, something else might be causing them: please contact your physician for a check up. Take care of your body!

Do you have any other questions about the human body you'd like to see answered? Please leave a comment below, or send me an Instagram message :)