No stupid questions: Why do I get a stitch in my side when I run?

What's a stitch, and how do you prevent it from happening?

Female runner on running track has side cramps during workout
(Image credit: Getty Images)

We’ve all been there: you go out for a run or a jog, and after a while, you feel a sharp pain on the side of your torso. This can be majorly annoying as stitches can end a good session prematurely, which isn’t great for your cardiovascular fitness. What causes a stitch, and how to prevent it?

Experiencing a stitch, or exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), is a shared running experience. It's a common running woe that many of us have encountered. It manifests as a sharp pain on the side of the abdomen, likely caused by reduced blood flow to the diaphragm or irritation of the abdominal lining.

Stitches can be so frustrating that they might put some athletes off running, which is a shame as running offers a plethora of benefits backed by research. Regular running can improve cardiovascular health, enhance mood through the release of endorphins, and aid in weight management.

Studies have shown that running can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Contrary to the belief that it harms bones and joints, running actually strengthens them. It has also been found to significantly improve mental health by reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

How can you prevent stitches from happening?

To avoid this pesky discomfort, make sure you time your meals properly—wait about 2-3 hours after eating before hitting the road. Staying hydrated is crucial, but avoid gulping down large amounts of water just before running. A thorough warm-up can also help, as it increases blood flow evenly throughout your body.

Strengthening your core muscles and regulating your breathing can also make a significant difference. Deep, even breaths can help keep stitches at bay, allowing you to focus on enjoying your run.

man meditating

(Image credit: Getty)

Strengthening the diaphragm might help prevent stitches, too. The diaphragm, a major muscle used in breathing, can be conditioned to better handle the demands of running. Exercises such as diaphragmatic breathing, where you focus on deep breaths that expand the abdomen rather than the chest, can enhance its strength and endurance.

Regular practice of these breathing techniques, combined with maintaining good running posture and core strength, can significantly reduce the likelihood of experiencing a stitch during your runs. This proactive approach not only prevents stitches but also allows for more comfortable and efficient breathing while you run, giving you the confidence to enjoy your runs to the fullest.

Not sure where to start? Breathing exercises on running watches can help you get going. These wearables often come with guided breathing exercises that encourage deep, diaphragmatic breathing. By following these exercises, runners can improve their breathing technique, making it more consistent and efficient.

This not only helps strengthen the diaphragm but also promotes better oxygen flow and reduces the chances of experiencing side stitches. Incorporating these exercises into your running routine can contribute to a more comfortable and enjoyable running experience.

Matt Kollat
Section Editor | Active

Matt Kollat is a journalist and content creator who works for and its magazine counterpart as an Active Editor. His areas of expertise include wearables, drones, fitness equipment, nutrition and outdoor gear. He joined T3 in 2019. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar and Fit&Well, and more. Matt also collaborated with other content creators (e.g. Garage Gym Reviews) and judged many awards, such as the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance's ESSNawards. When he isn't working out, running or cycling, you'll find him roaming the countryside and trying out new podcasting and content creation equipment.