The Curious Case of the Stitch

OK, so we are nearing the end of January (how did that happen?!) and I have no doubt that some of you have kick-started a brand new fitness regime.


The celebrities of la-la land make exercise look like a really glamorous past time and appear to be able to do it without even breaking into a sweat.


For us folk from the real world it is an altogether different, painful experience.

I’m not talking about the pain of the 30-pound a month gym membership, but rather that annoying and inhibiting side ache better known as the dreaded stitch.  (Also known as ‘exercise-related transient side pain’ – there goes a second of my life I won’t get back).




It does literally feel like a little seamstress is in there sewing a beautiful, epithelial jumper.









I liken a stitch in my side to the creaks and moans of a stiff door that is in need of a little WD-40.


I always thought it was down to being a little out of practise and all I needed to do was improve my fitness to make those creaks stitches disappear.

Not so.

Even Bolt gets them.


Don’t worry pal, we’re working on figuring this all out.


I also thought it might be caused by drinking too much just before working out.

Debunked again.

Well, sort of.

One scientific theory suggests that stitches are caused by what athletes eat and drink prior to exercise.  However, it’s not a case of how much but rather what you are consuming.   I’m sure this corresponds to your own real-life experience, however, many scientists don’t agree with it.

Sports Scientists have, of course, done the appropriate research and an alternative theory indicates that the ultimate culprit is your diaphragm.


Just below our diaphragm are organs such as the liver, kidney, spleen etc.  What you might not realise is that these are not firmly held in place.  They have a little breathing room.  So, when you’re bouncing up and down, your organs are jiggling a little bit too.


Each of your organs is attached to the diaphragm by flimsy ligaments.  So now imagine them all hanging there – jiggling around – and with each bounce pulling down on your diaphragm.

A bit like a Campanologist pulling on those bells.


That’s fine if your diaphragm is also moving down when you are breathing in.  But when you are breathing out, and your diaphragm is moving up, it causes a lot of strain.

This theory helps to explain why you will often feel a stitch on the right hand side of your body. Here’s the perpetrator:


Your liver is located on the right and is a very heavy organ (the heaviest organ in the human body is the skin which makes up about 18% of your body mass!) and therefore responsible for causing the most strain on your diaphragm, sending it into a sort of spasm, which leaves you with that horrible localised pain.

So, if you like this theory,  try this next time a stitch strikes when you are running:



Change your breathing pattern so that the leg on the opposite side to where the stitch is occurring hits the ground when you start breathing out.  This should help to stop the pulling just as your diaphragm is going up.





Ok, smarty pants.

geek I know what you are thinking.

This theory is great if you are running or doing anything upright, but what about if you are swimming (a sport notoriously associated with stitches)?  Suddenly this theory loses some favour.

There are other theories.

Some studies have suggested that the stitch is caused by a lack of blood flow to the diaphragm due to the redirection of the blood to the exercising muscles.  However, this is not widely supported as your diaphragm is a crucial muscle in the process of breathing so it seems unlikely that it would have an inadequate blood flow during exercise, just when it is needed most.





In short.  We are stumped / stitched.





There are plenty more theories out there ….

… trapped gas in your intestine (nice) … friction between the membranes that separate your abdominal cavity from the abdominal wall … imbalances of the thoracic spine ….. etc.



I am sorry that I cannot shed any more light on the matter.




However, come rain or shine, stitch or abdominal bliss, I am determined to keep this exercise malarkey going through February!

Quick, someone get me a log.

don't quit






  • Anonymous says:

    Not all sewn up then.

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