Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Preventing Side Stitches?

When exercising, I sometimes have to stop because I get a "stitch" in my side. What causes them? And is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening?

Answer (Published 3/9/2006)

Medically speaking, the "side stitches" that you experience are called "exercise-related transient abdominal pains" or ETAPs. These stitches are very common and not serious, although they can be painful and can put a crimp in your exercise session. (People who exercise are much more likely than couch potatoes to experience ETAPs.)

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Your Whole Body - Foods, herbs and drugs can all interact, sometimes in unexpected ways. Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor takes known interactions into account when developing nutritional supplement recommendations, to help safeguard against adverse effects. Learn more, and get your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor recommendation today.

Stitches are cramps or spasms in the diaphragm, the muscle that separates your abdominal organs from your chest and lungs. When you inhale, your diaphragm drops down; when you exhale, it expands upwards. But vigorous movement can jerk the diaphragm down when it is expanding upward, leading to a "stitch." You may have noticed that stitches usually occur on your right side - this is because the diaphragm is attached to the liver, which is on the right.

To prevent stitches, you can try the following tricks:

  • Breathe evenly and deeply, not shallowly, using your diaphragm. You're breathing correctly for exercise if you can see or feel your belly expand when you inhale.
  • Avoid running downhill (it increases the force on your body, making stitches more likely to occur).
  • Avoid big meals for three hours prior to exercise.
  • Cut back a bit on the fluids you drink before and during exercise to see if this helps.
  • Purse your lips when you exhale and inhale. This can both relieve and prevent stitches.
  • Stretch your diaphragm muscles before exercise. Just raise your right arm overhead and bend to the left. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
  • Slow your pace - stitches may not occur as frequently.
  • Watch your breathing to make sure you're not always inhaling as the same foot hits the ground. Try to alternate breathing in and out on opposite feet.

When you get a stitch, bend forward slightly and massage the area. (Most people do this naturally to ease the pain.)

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here