I admit that it’s a bit of a confusing title. I’m not talking about the kind of stitch that your doctor sews. If I was, the way to prevent it is to tell your doctor or surgeon not to give you one; simple! Instead, the stitch I’m talking about is the abdominal cramp that plagues people when they start performing a cardio workout.
Don’t laugh! Stitches are a really annoying thing. Many years ago when I first started running to lose weight, I used to get stitches all the time when I first began. Sometimes it would feel like a sharp stabbing sensation, while other times it simply feels like a bit of a cramp. Either way, it was as annoying as it gets.
Believe it or not, someone actually did his PhD on the topic of stitches and co-authored 14 review articles to date about this issue. His name is Dr. Darren Morton, and is a senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Science at Avondale College of Higher Education in NSW. As one would expect, this gentleman was an ironman, triathlon and surf lifesaver, which drove him to study this topic.
According to Dr. Morton, stitches are most probably caused by an irritation of the membrane lining the abdominal cavity. He also said, as we would also expect, that the food and drinks that we consume before starting our physical activity can influence the odds of us getting one. So what are some tips that can help reduce your chances of getting stitches?
Firstly, you should ensure that you are well-hydrated well before performing cardio exercises like running, swimming and even cycling. However, in the two hours before the activity commences, tone it down to small sips to maintain hydration, while ensuring that your stomach is not bloated with too much water.
Next, you should avoid eating a lot of food for at least three to four hours before performing the activity. Also, try to avoid drinks that are laden with sugar – including fruit juice. Another thing you can do would be to increase your fitness level, although this is still very controversial at this stage.
So what do you do the next time you get a stitch? For a start, you can try some deep breathing. Other things you can do would be to push or stretch the affected area, or to bend over forwards. Of course, these are not blanket rules and are therefore not guaranteed ways of resolving stitches.
There are lots and lots of articles that have described the processes that go on when a stitch occurs, and most of them involve the abrasive forces between different membrane layers in the abdomen. To make matters worse, this area is being served by the phrenic nerve, which ensures that you do feel the pain.
Anyways, the mechanisms underpinning the occurrence of stitches are not that important to understand, unless you are an academic or are genuinely curious about it. Our main focus is prevention, which has been adequately covered in this article. So go forth and exercise, while taking precautions against stitches.
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