You'll brave below-freezing temps, that oversized bear of a dog your neighbor refuses to leash, and about a dozen other obstacles during your runs. But there's one thing that can stop you dead in your tracks: side stitches. Those cramps racking your stomach and knotting the muscles between your ribs are actually spasms in your diaphragm, a huge, dome-shaped sheet of muscle at the bottom of your ribcage. Your diaphragm plays a huge role in breathing, so yeah, it can really throw off your pacing and hurt your training if it's constantly cramping up.
"When a stich occurs during a workout or race, it's best to stop and address the problem," says Marni Sumbal, board certified sport dietitian, MS, RD, CSSD. "Rarely does 'pushing through' actually work when it comes to issues surrounding the gut or muscles," she adds. It's only a matter of time before the pain becomes too intense, or your form becomes so sloppy, you're forced to stop.
So, save yourself the additional pain and stop—immediately. "Take several deep, slow, concentrated inhales and exhales, and don't start running again until the stich has settled and your breathing is under control," Sumbal says. You want your diaphragm to relax, fully, so start with brisk walking, then gradually get faster, slowly raising your heart rate and pace to where you left off.
But better than trying to manage the cramp once it starts is preventing it from ever happening in the first place, especially if you're an athlete who's chronically sidelined by stiches, Sumbal says. Here's how.