Contrary to popular belief, a stitch probably isn’t caused by lactic acid. The exact cause is still under debate, and it’s possible that there’s more than one. We’ve summarised a few possible causes for the common side stitch here, so that you can identify which might be causing you the most bother.
Decreased blood flow to the diaphragm
Your diaphragm — the muscular sheet at the base of your abdomen — helps to regulate your breathing, and is the culprit behind hiccups. Some theories suggest that an interruption of blood flow to the diaphragm can upset it to the point of causing pain in the form of a stitch. If you eat before running or exercising, your body will divert more blood to help with digestion, leaving less blood for the diaphragm during your workout, which may result in a stitch.
Abdominal muscle and organ irritation
It stands to reason that when you run or workout vigorously, your insides go on a bit of a wild ride. Bouncing up and down and being generally irritated, can cause you to develop a painful stitch in your side. You may have noticed this if you’re a runner, or spend any time jumping or bouncing.
Spinal cord irritation
The human body is complex and incredibly sensitive. If you’re throwing yourself into intense exercise, your nervous system, including your spinal column, may react badly at first, sending pain signals which result in a stitch.
Preventing a stitch
What causes a stitch is complicated, so there’s no single answer to the question of how to prevent one. Taking good care of your nervous system, staying hydrated, and not eating a big meal before exercising may help, though.
Supplementing with a vitamin B complex and omega 3 may go some way to keeping you in generally better shape, too, helping to prevent stitches during exercise.
You can also try mobilising your abdominals and back before and after exercise, too, so that your body gets used to moving in new ways. Use a foam roller to roll out your mid and lower back, and try some gentle yoga flow routines to loosen up the muscles and tissues around your midline.
Experiment with eating less before exercise, too, and combined, these things may help to reduce the number or severity of stitches you experience.