Do You Deal With Side Pain While Running?

Solving The Mystery of Side Stitches In Runners

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Solving The Mystery of Side Stitches In Runners


Like many runners afflicted with these unexplained pains, I concocted my own theories: It’s all about breathing patterns. You simply need to get in better shape. Is it just me, or do side stitches seem to come on when I change running speeds back and forth?


“It is just you,” says Dr. Darren Morton, a senior lecturer at Avondale College in Australia.

Morton is the leading—and, in many ways, the only—researcher on side stitches, which are academically referred to as “exercised-induced temporary abdominal pain,” or ETAP for short.

One of the main reasons that Morton could be considered the only major researcher in the field is that there simply hasn’t been that much research done on side stitches, or ETAP. Most runners who are bothered by a side stitch would never visit a doctor for the problem.

“It’s more of a nuisance in a lot of cases, than life-threatening,” explains Gregg.

Side stitches have also been hard to study because of their transient nature and lack of definition. What exactly constitutes ETAP? Some people get the pain in their side. Some get it more toward the middle of the abdomen. Some are high in the abs; some are low. Many people also confuse side stitches and cramps, though those two things are very different.


The lack of research has led to wild speculation. But many of those theories, largely based on anecdotal evidence, are now being disproven.

For years, it was theorized that side-stitch pain was related to stress of the diaphragm muscles. But studies have found that ETAP occurs even in activities with low respiratory demands on the diaphragm and having a side stitch doesn’t result in limited lung capacity. Other theories suggested that side stitches were connected to gastrointestinal distress or to stress on the ligaments around the stomach and liver. The current operating theory, though, is that these stitches are caused by irritation of the parietal peritoneum, according to Morton.


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