How to avoid a ‘stitch’

That pesky abdominal pain with exercise, often referred to as a ‘stitch’ is thought to be related to diaphragm distress.  The diaphragm is a muscle that runs horizontally across our trunk, dividing the chest and abdominal cavities.  The stomach hangs from the diaphragm through peritoneal ligaments.  Bouncing movements such as running with a full stomach can cause a pull on these ligaments and therefore the diaphragm, causing a spasm that we feel as a ‘stitch’.

Another mechanism that has been posed is where the nerve supply to the diaphragm can be upset, causing a diaphragm spasm, again, felt as a ‘stitch’.  This stress can occur from an emotional or physical shock such as a car accident or a neck, upper back, lower back, or rib restriction.

You can see your Osteopath to have your breathing and diaphragm assessed.  Our Osteopaths can help to improve your breathing, free up your back, neck and ribs and reset your diaphragm function.  This can also get more oxygen rich blood to the tissues that need it.

Try these tips below:

  • Wait over an hour before exercise.  For some people the time between a meal and exercise can vary, so try some different timing to find what works for you.
  • Sip small amounts of fluid rather than one large drink.
  • When running downhill, try to maintain regular breathing and your foot strike light, to reduce the tug on your diaphragm.
  • If you get a stitch, tighten your abdominal muscles.  Act as if someone where about to punch you in the stomach.
  • Breathe out through pursed lips, which will also help to tighten the abdominals.
  • Belly-breathe, forcing your belly to rise and fall, which stabilises your stomach.
  • Apply pressure to the pain with your hand and bend slightly forward, to support abdominal muscles.

If you would like to have your stitch reduced or eliminated, there are many ways we can help, including providing individualised hands-on treatment and advice, so contact us today.

Written by Dr. Jess Harvey B.Sc. (Anat, Phys), B.Ap.Sci (Comp. Med.), Ma Osteo., Registered Osteopath and Director of Head 2 Toe Health, a multidisciplinary clinic in Brisbane also providing Acupuncture, Massage, Life Coaching and Counselling – where we aim to get you as well as possible, as fast as possible, permanently.  We believe in a thorough approach to restoring and maintaining health and address many aspects of our lifestyles that can contribute to pain, stiffness, dis-ease and disease.  For any further information, please contact us on or 07) 3208 8308.

Resources: Eyestone, Ed. Runner’s World, The Fast Lane, Drop that stitch. March 2001