Q & A Library
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.)
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:
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.
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