If the warm weather is inspiring you to exercise outdoors this weekend (or for the first time in weeks, depending on how cold and rainy spring has been where you live), there is nothing more annoying-and exercise interrupting-than a side stitch. What's the cause? This sharp pain occurs when the ligaments that run downward from the diaphragm to hold up the liver become stretched. When you run, you breathe in once for each two strides, and you breathe out when one foot-usually the right-strikes the ground. So your diaphragm goes up when the force of your foot strike causes your liver to drop. This stretches the ligament and makes it hurt. This often happens to runners, but you also can get side stitches from walking or even laughing. Whatever the reason, here's how to make them go away.
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STOP. When the pain hits, stop whatever you are doing. You need to relax to calm your twitching muscle.
SLOW DOWN AND WALK. If you're running when you get a stitch, sometimes just slowing to a walk is enough to calm that jerking muscle, says Suki Munsell, PhD. When the twinge fades, speed up again.
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PRESS HERE. Stop running and press your fingers deep into your liver to raise it up toward your diaphragm, says Dr. Mirkin. This releases the stretched ligaments. At the same time, purse your lips and blow out as hard as you can against tightly held lips. This lowers your diaphragm. The pain will disappear and you will be able to resume running.
BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT. Continue to massage your aching side and work to slow your breathing to a regular pace. Getting your breathing back to a steady rhythm will help stop the ache.
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MASSAGE YOUR DIAPHRAGM. Like any muscle, the diaphragm needs to be warmed up before it exercises. So before you stretch your legs, give your diaphragm a breath massage to get it in working order. Sit on the floor and place one hand on your chest, the other on your belly. As you breathe, both hands should move up and down, indicating that you're using your full breathing capacity, including your diaphragm. A warmed-up diaphragm is less likely to stitch.
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STOP TO GO. Any aerobic activity will slow or stop the digestive process while the blood rushes to help the muscles. That's why runners are told not to eat at least 2 hours before a race.
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