Anyone prone to a side stitch when running wants to know why it happens. 

"The honest answer is we don't really know what causes a side stitch," says Dr Juliet McGrattan, a runner and GP who is author of Sorted: The Active Women's Guide To Health. "Stitches are harmless, but can be very painful and no end of theories have arisen about causes and cures for them."

If you suffer from a painful stitch each time you head out for a run, check out these tips on how to keep them at bay.

1. Food and Drink

Eating and drinking large amounts within the two hours before running has been correlated with some side-stitch pain. “Making sure you’ve left enough time for food to be digested is essential, but often overlooked,” McGrattan says. She says some people get a stitch when consuming gels and sports drinks, so finding one that suits is crucial.

2. Breathing

Slowing down your breathing or adopting a deep and rhythmic breathing pattern has been found to relieve the pain. “Many runners say that if their stitch is on the right side, if they slow their pace and exhale as their left foot hits the ground, the stitch eases,” says McGrattan.

3. Try a stretch on the run

Grabbing your side in a grimace as a stitch strikes is no bad thing as it simulates a stretch that could relieve the problem. “Some people stop to touch their toes or run with their hands on their heads and find it helps,” McGrattan says. Stretching the affected side or bending forward can also help relieve the muscles in the back that are pushing on the nerve that’s causing the pain, she adds. A trick recommended is to bend forward 45-90° while squeezing firmly just under the bottom rib and half way across to your belly button, while breathing deeply. Slowly stand upright again. You can also try this lying down with the hips elevated.

4. Avoid fruit juice

While dehydration is thought to trigger a stitch in some people, consuming the wrong sort of fluids can also cause it. A 2012 study at Manchester Royal Infirmary found that drinking fluids before exercise was associated with side stitches and that fruit juice seemed to cause them most often, while water and sports drinks had less of a negative impact.

5. Warm-up properly

Shallow breathing in response to cold temperatures at the start of a run can cause the diaphragm to remain in a high position so that the peritoneum can’t relax. “It’s especially important to warm up well on a cold day if you are prone to a stitch,” McGrattan says.

This article was first published in Athletics Weekly. For more of the latest running and athletics news, plus performance features and much more, grab a copy of the magazine or check out