Side Stiches?

The Facts:

For many avid runners, side stitches can be a maddening problem: the cramplike spasms set in suddenly and can ruin a good workout. While no one knows their precise cause, many experts believe a side stitch occurs when the diaphragm--which is vital to breathing--is overworked during a vigorous run and begins to spasm. Runners who develop stitches are commonly advised to slow down and take deep, controlled breaths.

But a new theory suggests that it may not be the diaphragm that’s responsible for the pain, and that poor posture could be a culprit. In one recent study, researchers used a device to measure muscle activity as people were experiencing side stitches. They found no evidence of increased activities or spasms in the diaphragm area during the onset of stitches.

Last year, the same team published a separate study in The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. They found that those who regularly slouched or hunched their backs were more likely to experience side stitches, and the poorer the posture, the more severe their stitches in exercise.

One explanation is that poor running form may affect nerves that run from the upper back to the abdomen. Another is that hunching increases friction on the peritoneum, a membrane that surrounds the abdominal cavity. This could also explain why controlled breathing seems to help relieve stitches: drawing deep breaths fills the lungs and improves posture.

The Bottom Line:

Improving running posture may help relieve stitches

NY Times, 3/1/2011

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