Everyone has experienced stitches, those pains that occur during exercise, mostly under our ribs or around the collarbone, that disturb your training. Although a weak point for many athletes, they are not an inevitability.


The cause of a stitch depends on its location. They are rarely serious but can disturb our exercise. What causes them? How can you avoid them and, once they have occurred, how can you make them go away? We answer all your questions!


The causes of stitches

First of all, it's important to note that there are different kinds of stitch and they don't all have the same causes:

  • Collarbone stitches can occur on the right or left
  • Stitches under the ribs (right or left)
  • Stitches in the stomach.


Often, stitches are due to low oxygen levels in the muscles. However, those in the collarbone have a different origin. They actually come from temporary circulatory problems. During exercise, breathing becomes faster, and blood exchanges and the oxygen supply are affected. The spleen and liver can receive too much blood and therefore slow down the respiratory system, causing that pain that we all know around the collarbone.


As regards the other kinds of stitch, they are caused by low oxygen levels in the muscles, diaphragm, intercostal muscles and abdominal muscles. Contractions in these muscles, particularly the diaphragm, are more frequent when doing physical activity, so the blood does not always have time to reach the muscles. This leads to a lack of blood and therefore a lack of oxygen, which forces the muscle to contract. And this of course causes a stitch! But stitches can also be caused by a hearty meal: blood rushes to the digestive tract and away from the muscles, which cannot continue and contract painfully.


How can you avoid this?

There are several solutions for avoiding the stitches that ruin our training. And better safe than sorry!


  • Eat at least 3 hours before exercising to give your body time to digest a bit.
  • Only drink in small sips. Do not drink too quickly. For lengthy exercise, it is recommended you drink 2 or 3 mouthfuls every 20 minutes. But once a stitch has set in, drinking won't help!
  • Warm up your diaphragm before you exercise because it is one of the muscles that suffers the most. To do so, reverse the normal breathing movements: breathe in through your mouth while sucking in your stomach and breathe out while inflating it. Repeat this exercise a dozen times.
  • Start training at a fairly gentle pace that you can gradually increase so your blood flow can regulate itself.
  • Breathe very deeply as you exercise. The more your activity intensifies, the more your breathing out should be accentuated.


How to get rid of them

Despite these tips for avoiding stitches, you are never safe! If you feel a stitch, you can get rid of it by pushing it hard with your hands. Lean to the side that hurts as you breathe out. You don't have to stop exercising to get rid of the pain. It is nevertheless recommended that you slow down and concentrate on your breathing which should be slow, deep and regular.


As for some old wives' cures, you could try pressing your fist hard against the side where it hurts, perhaps holding a stone and slowing down gradually.


If the stitch persists despite this, stop exercising and take some time to breathe then start again gently. If the pain is very intensive and continues despite stopping training, you must consult a doctor.


How can you improve your training results? Focus on the motor behind physical effort: breathing.