Posted by: ZEE | 2004/01/12



I want to start jogging in the morning, but previously I used to get stitches in my side and I'm afraid this will put me off. This happens even while doing TAE BO. What can be the cause of this as I try not to eat before any exercise.


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Our expert says:
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HI zee

You are right that eating or drinking before exercise does often cause this stitch. HOwever, it's not the only cause. Basically, stitches are caused by shallow rapid breathing patterns. A stitch is a cramp in the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle that controls the breathing during exercise, and just like any muscle, it is prone to cramp when the muscle becomes tense or fails to relax - exactly what causes this is debatable, but the answer is to consciously relax your breathing. During exercise, you may breathe hard and fast, especially with downhill running and fast, sustained running as in time trials. Under these circumstances a person tends to pant and the diaphragm doesn't relax.

The stitch can be broken, as can the cramp, by lengthening the muscle. Proper breathing may prevent the development of a stitch. Correct breathing is generally “belly breathing” and it involves breathing predominantly with the diaphragm, rather than the chest muscles. With belly breathing, the chest hardly moves and it appears that the abdomen (stomach) is doing all the work. As you breathe in, the stomach goes up and when you exhale, the stomach retracts. Breathing out fully at regular intervals, rather than panting, will prevent the stitch from developing.

Factors causing a stitch are:
• Eating and drinking before exercise, as I mentioned.
• Lack of training, which is something that can't really be avoided as you start exercise unfortunately.
• Weakness of the abdominal muscles
• Cool weather
• Nervousness
• Starting a race too fast, because this usually means that the intensity is too high to handle.

How to prevent a stitch:
• Avoid food and water for 2 to 4 hours before exercise.
• Train the abdominal muscles with appropriate sit-ups and stability exercises.
• Learn to breathe with the diaphragm.
• Forced exhalation is effective in breaking the stitch as it stretches the diaphragm.

In the end, the stitch will go away eventually, as you get fitter. So, until then, you just have to relax, maybe slow down, however frustrating this might be, and run until you are fitter.

Good luck

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

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