Picture this. You’re running along at a great pace, flying down the road when suddenly a nasty side cramp hits you out of nowhere. This is me more than I care to admit. After a particularly uncomfortable run I consulted my friend Google and learned a thing or two. Mainly that it may not be one thing that’s the problem.
There very likely could be any of three culprits to my little cramp issue: eating, dehydration or breathing. Let’s focus on breathing first since I suspect that’s the problem in my case. Most likely that stabbing pain under my rib cage is caused by a diaphragm spasm and the need to regulate my breathing.
Regulate your breathing. Run like a swimmer—with efficient breathing patterns that are in sync with your body. Swimmers can only breathe when their faces are out of the water (obviously), so they focus much of their time learning their breathing tempo and matching it to the rhythm of their stroke. Runners can benefit from the same technique by matching their breathing to their strides—inhaling for two to four strides and exhaling for the same. The faster the pace, the shorter the sequence (fast pace = one or two strides per breath, slower = three or four strides per breath). This can not only prevent stitches, but also improve the efficiency of your oxygen transport. Plus, it’s a great way to keep in touch with your running effort levels without a watch.
Don’t fill up: Running on a full stomach is never a good idea. And this doesn’t just refer to a big meal, it goes for water as well. Staying hydrated is absolutely necessary, but overloading on H2O or a sports drink right before you head off can lead to bad cramps.
Once you get a side stitch, treatment is simple. Stop running and take long, slow deep breaths. I also recommend what I call the “Nike Swoosh” stretch because you look like their logo: Stretch with both arms extended to the sky then bend sideways at the waist to each side; hold for 15 seconds on each side. This should relieve the spasm and off you go again. (Lewis G. Maharam, MD, FACSM)
Stick to familiar foods that are easily digested: A small snack about an hour before a workout or run is OK, but this snack should be comprised mostly of carbohydrate and fluid, not fat. Examples include 1/2 deli sandwich and a sports drink, 2-4 fig bars and a sports drink, or a granola bar and a sports drink. If all else fails,try different sources of pre-workout foods (energy gels, sports drinks, bread, pasta, oatmeal, fruits) till you find something you can tolerate without getting a pain in the side.
Anyone else have this issue? Any cures you swear by?