A side stitch is also known as exercise-related transient abdominal pain, or ETAP. It’s that sharp pain you get in your side, just below your chest, when you’re exercising.

You’re more likely to get a side stitch if you do exercises that keep your upper body upright and tense for a long time, such as:

It’s estimated that over 75 percent of people who do these kinds of physical activities experience a side stitch more than once over a year.

But there are ways you can get rid of this annoying pain once you feel it coming on. There are also ways to lower your chance of getting a side stitch in the first place. Read on to find out how.

If you feel a side stitch coming on, there are ways to stop it from getting worse and get rid of it altogether. Here’s how:

Stitches are supposedly the result of too much exertion on your torso and spinal muscles.

Slowing down or taking a short breather from exercise can allow these muscles to relax and reduce any pain from overexertion.

Some researchers believe that muscle contractions and lack of blood flow to your abdominal muscles might have something to do with the pain of a side stitch.

To reduce the pain of a contracted muscle, take a deep breath. Then, breathe out slowly. Repeat this several times.

Taking slow, deep breaths may also help ensure that your muscles are getting a fresh supply of oxygenated blood.

Stretching your muscles helps prevent cramps in general. With a side stitch, try this technique to reduce cramping:

  1. Raise your arm that’s on the opposite side of where your stitch is above your head.
  2. Bend gently in the direction of where your stitch is, keeping your arm raised.

Once you’ve stopped exercising, try this technique to reduce muscle cramping:

  1. Push your fingers firmly but gently into the area where you feel the stitch.
  2. Bend forward at your torso until you feel the pain start to subside.

There are ways to prevent a side stitch from hijacking your workout. Here are six tips that may help stop a side stitch from happening in the first place:

Prevention tips

  1. Avoid eating a big meal before you exercise. Eating a large meal within an hour or two of exercising can cause your stomach to put extra pressure on your abdominal muscles.
  2. Limit sugary drinks. Drinking sugary, carbonated beverages or sports drinks right before you exercise may interfere with your metabolism and bother your stomach.
  3. Improve your posture. A 2010 study found that slouching or hunching can increase your chances of getting a side stitch. Try to keep your upper body upright and your shoulders back while you exercise.
  4. Gradually increase the length of your workout. Building up your muscles over time may help reduce muscle cramping and injury. So start slowly and work your way up. For example, if you’re starting a running routine from scratch, do it in stages. Don’t try to do too much too quickly.
  5. Build up your abdominal muscle strength. A 2014 study of 50 runners found that having stronger trunk muscles could reduce how often you get stitches.
  6. Stay hydrated. Make sure to drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. Staying well hydrated may help prevent a side stitch in the first place. Just make sure you don’t drink too much water right before exercising. This can put extra pressure on your diaphragm and make stitches more painful.
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What exactly causes a side stitch isn’t well understood.

Where a side stitch is located may indicate that it has something to do with the exertion of muscles or the increase in blood flow around the diaphragm. This is the big flat muscle that separates your lungs from the organs in your abdomen.

A 1997 study published in the Journal of Sports Science suggests that stitches happen due to muscle cramps that are caused by repeated spinal movements and muscle fatigue.

Abdominal pain that results from your muscles being irritated by extra motion in your torso area has also been linked to pain in the shoulder.

Around 75 percent of people who exercise are likely to get a side stitch at some point. For many people, this pain is usually located in their side, just below their chest.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get rid of or ease this pain. Slowing down, breathing deeply, stretching, and pushing on the muscles may help.

Avoiding large meals before exercising, limiting sugary drinks, using good posture, and slowly building up your strength may help prevent a side stitch from happening in the first place.

If at any point you feel pain that is sudden or intense while you’re exercising, be sure to stop. Follow up with your doctor if the pain gets worse or doesn’t go away with time.