What is a side stitch and how can you avoid it

Surprisingly, the origin of this universal pain is not yet fully understood. Shoes on, stopwatch started, jogging is off to a good start. 

What is a side stitch and how can you avoid it
health conditions

But after a few minutes, a sharp pain is felt in the abdomen: it is a side stitch, which sometimes forces you to stop running. Surprisingly, this phenomenon is not yet well understood. But specialists agree on at least one point: having a sidelight every now and then is absolutely not a sign of an underlying disease. What exactly do we know about this phenomenon? How to avoid having them? Le Figaro interviewed two specialists.

Little-known mechanisms

"There is no precise definition of a side point - but everyone knows how to recognize it," said Dr. Burel, sports doctor at the Pôle santé sport de Rouen. This pain, which is often accompanied by difficulty in breathing, usually resolves within minutes of stopping exercise. It does not cause complications. The only possible risk: to confuse it with a real problem (appendicitis, peritonitis, myocardial infarction…). “In reality, these pains are very different, reassures Dr. Burel. With a cardiovascular problem, for example, the pain does not go away in a few minutes. And other symptoms besides pain are added to it, such as general discomfort. "

What is this pain due to? "No study has ever been able to answer this question," said the doctor. There are, however, several hypotheses. "Some people say that the side stitch is the consequence of a cramp or a lack of blood supply to the diaphragm," said Dr. Mathieu Saubade, head of the sports medicine clinic at the Vaudois University Hospital in Lausanne. Except that the side points usually appear quickly, without the effort necessarily being sustained. But a cramp or a lack of blood supply is unlikely under these conditions ". Unconvincing, therefore.

The most commonly accepted hypothesis is that there is mild irritation of the peritoneum, the membrane that surrounds the organs in the abdomen.

“Some specialists have also suggested that it could be mechanical stress on the visceral ligaments, the structures that support the abdominal organs,” he continues. Which would explain why horse-riding enthusiasts are also prone to side-stitches: this sport involves vertical pendulum movements of the trunk, which could strain the ligaments.

But the most common hypothesis in the medical community is that there is mild irritation of the peritoneum, the membrane that surrounds the organs in the abdomen. It is made up of two layers which, during physical exertion, would be in friction, which could cause a small painful inflammation. For now, this theory is still awaiting confirmation.

Adapt your breathing

So how do you avoid the side stitch? First, you have to learn to breathe well. "By breathing badly, we initiate bad movements of the diaphragm, which could increase the friction of the layers of the peritoneum," says Dr. Saubade. This explains why children are more concerned. "Their breathing is often anarchic during a physical effort", underlines Dr. Burel. Conversely, experienced athletes manage their breathing correctly and are therefore spared side stitches.

"It is important to exhale deeply, to be sure to reject all the carbon dioxide," the doctor further recommends, adding that all beginners must learn to synchronize their stride and their breathing and find the breathing rhythm that corresponds to them. “You have to start slowly and focus on your breathing. And above all, you have to practice an effort adapted to your physical conditions, ”he adds. Finally, it is advisable not to overeat before the sports session.

If the pain does still occur, focus on your breathing. Leaning your torso forward can also help. Stretching the muscles on the pain side, or pushing down on the area also sometimes alleviates the symptom. “But often slowing down or stopping can be enough,” concludes Dr. Burel. And if you decide to go back, you have to do it gradually.

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