How to Relieve Side Pain: Causes Explained

You find yourself on your usual run when all of a sudden a sharp pain occurs in your side. With each passing breath the pain becomes more excruciating and eventually you're forced to stop. Turns out you're another victim of "side stitch."

What Causes Side Stitch?

side stitch

It's still up in the air as to what causes side stitch. However, it's believed to be a form of cramping in the diaphragm. The diaphragm works by forcing air into the lungs as you breathe. However what causes these spasms in the diaphragm is unclear.

The spasms could be a result of ligaments tugging on the diaphragm. These ligaments also attach to internal organs. As you run these organs will naturally bounce around. For instance if you happen to exhale at the same time as when your foot lands, it will cause the liver to pull downward. The downward pull is at the peak of the stride as your diaphragm is tightened from the exhale. The overall tugging motion could cause a spasm.

Another possible reason for the spasms is that the intense exercising results in a decrease of blood flow to the diaphragm.

There is also the running motion itself. Raising the knees as you run contracts the abdomen which increases pressure inside the stomach and presses on the diaphragm.

There is also another theory that suggest that side pain is a result of gas being trapped inside the large intestine. When you exercise, it causes intestinal contractions to speed up and causes gas to be forced towards the colon. If the colon is blocked by hard stool then it results in a spasm or cramp in the side.

However, the above are all just theories as to why this problem occurs. Until there is a true explanation for what causes this phenomenon, one of the following home remedies will suffice.

How to Prevent Side Pain

Breathing Technique

Side pain is generally exacerbated by improper breathing technique while exercising. When you're exercising you should try to breathe deeply in a controlled manner. You should focus on expanding the chest and belly.

Grunt Exhale

Performing a grunting sound as you exhale can help relieve side pain. This breathing technique forces the diaphragm to relax from it's tensed exhale position.

Take it Slow

When you're out of shape, your breathing intensifies and results in rapid, but shallow breathing patterns. You should focus on building intensity slowly over the course of a month.


tired runner

There are some professional athletes that believe you should fight through the pain and ignore it. However, you're not a professional and you're not racing anybody other than yourself. Typically stopping and taking a break will help the pain subside.

Wait to Exercise After Eating

The old wives' tail about waiting to swim after you've eaten may apply here. Try waiting an hour after eating before exercising. Some people do seem to be affected by exercising with a full stomach.


Rub the area with your hands. This forces blood to the area and causes the muscles to relax.

The Poke and Blow

A way to relieve diaphragm pressure is to poke your fingers into your belly (below the ribs on the right side). While at the same time pursing your lips and blowing as hard as you can.

Build Abdominal Strength

One of the possible reasons for side pain is due to weak stomach muscles. Try incorporating intervals of intense running during your regular run.


If these home remedies aren't helping and the pain doesn't subside, it's best to see a Doctor as they can help determine the reason for the pain. There could possibly be an underlying medical condition that could be causing the problem.

Robert Woods
At POP, we strive to provide practical preventative advice. We strive to figure out ways to prevent problems that people might have trouble grasping. We've found that other sources have trouble articulating concepts in a way that regular people can understand.
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