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If you've ever gotten a side stitch mid-workout, you know how annoying and painful they can be. But what actually ARE side stitches? What causes them, and how can you avoid them when working out? 

We spoke with Mark Miele (PT, MPT, Cert. SMT, Cert. DN, Dip. Osteopractic, CSCS, and Clinic Manager at OrthoCarolina—and you can trust that all of those acronyms mean he knows what he's talking about!) to find out the answers to all of your questions about side stitches, so your next workout can be pain-free.

What Are Side Stitches?

You know them as the uncomfortable (even painful) experiences you have mid-workout. But Miele says they're actually known in the medical world as exercise-related transient abdominal pain, or ETAP.

What Causes A Side Stitch?  

"Good question," Miele said. "No one really knows."

Miele said there are a lot of theories. "It seems to be more common in younger people; the number of reported cases tends to drop off as people get older," he explained. "It also appears more common in activities where the upper body twists, like swimming, running, and horseback riding."

How Can You Avoid Side Stitches When Working Out?

There's no hard-and-fast answer here, Miele said. But he did mention that some common thoughts on how you can avoid side stitches are:

  • Strengthen your core
  • Warm up thoroughly before activity
  • Monitor eating and drinking prior to activity to see if that may be a trigger
  • Using breath control techniques

What Should You Do If You DO Get A Side Stitch When Working Out?

Miele said this is mostly trial and error on your part as an individual.

"What is usually effective is to stop and rest for a period of time before resuming activity," he added. "A little massage to the area may be of benefit as well."

Miele said that really, though, you have to figure out what works for your body. "There are a lot of urban legends out there. One of those is punching yourself in the stomach. I advise people to avoid that one," he said. 

Yup, makes sense that punching yourself in the stomach wouldn't be the way to make it stop hurting!

​Learn More About Health & Wellness From the Experts at OrthoCarolina

​Whether you've recently experienced an injury or you just need help figuring out the best way to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle, OrthoCarolina can help. Make an appointment at a location near you to start getting the treatment you need.