Exercise Lesson: What are Side Stitches?

Exercising Excuse: I can’t run. It gives me side stitches.

Running, running, running. Then WHAM! Pain in your side. What happened? I know what you’re thinking, “I’m not meant for running, never have been, never will be….” But that is not true.

Sorry, I know you were hoping your excuse would work. It doesn’t work though.

Side-stitches are actually very normal when you’re starting a new exercise regimen. Not only are they normal, they are DEFINITELY not a reason to stop exercising altogether.

In order that you may not be discouraged, allow me to explain…

Breathing Muscles

When you start a new running plan, chances are you’re going to be exercising above your normal everyday fitness level. It takes awhile to get used to this new level. When you’re in this transition phase, you’re going to be very inefficient with your oxygen use. As a result, you might notice that you’re out of breath.

As breathing gets harder and harder, your lungs start to rise and fall with more force. You have muscles that help you expand and contract your rib cage. These are called intercostals.

What?!?!? You’ve never heard of em?

Intercostals. This would be what you’re eating when you have THIS for supper… (yummy pig breathing muscles)

But, actually… your intercostals are not meant for barbecuing. I’m guessing you’d rather to use them to breathe. Actually, I’m sure of it. So, here’s a picture of your intercostal muscles.

These muscles are necessary for breathing.

The bummer part is that they can get “out of shape” just like any other muscle on your body. When you’re starting a new running program and breathing heavily, they can be used so much more than usual that they start to spasm. The muscle spasm is what you’re noticing when you react to a sharp pain in your side.

The side stitch is what happens when intercostal muscles cramp from over use. Those little guys are just not used to this kind of activity!

When the pain happens, it’s important to let them relax (a.k.a. start walking and slow down your breathing). You’re probably done running. However, it is not an indication that you should stop altogether or that you’re never meant to be a runner. The more you breath heavily, the more these muscles learn to adapt.

Your breathing muscles need to get in shape like the rest of you!

The next time you get a side stitch, just realize that it’s part of the process. Be patient. Keep running and walk when you need to walk. No shame. Eventually, your body will change and the side stitches will stop happening.

Happy Exercising!

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