You asked: Why does my side hurt during cardio?
Cardio can be a real pain, and whether it’s going for a jog, taking a swim or playing a game of soccer or basketball, you’ll probably get some aches along the way. However, one discomfort may stand out above the rest, and that’s the sharp pain around your ribs, commonly known as side stitches, that makes you want to take things down a notch or two. An expert from the Texas A&M Coastal Bend Health Education Center shares all you need to know about this thorn in your side.
What are side stitches?
There’s not a whole lot of research on exercise-induced transient abdominal pain—or side stiches. However, in short, it’s the type of pain that we’ve all experienced before.
“It’s really just a muscle cramp,” said Josh Laudig, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, fitness coordinator at the Texas A&M Coastal Bend Health Education Center. “The smaller muscles around your ribs expand and constrict during your workout, and they could eventually cramp and cause side stiches.”
Your rib cage protects many vital organs, such as your heart and lungs, and is located right below the lungs is the diaphragm—the main muscle used for breathing. However, when you exercise, the smaller ancillary muscles in the area are susceptible to cramping.
“What initiates it is bad posture,” Laudig said. “Most athletes, particularly runners, will notice it from upright position, with or without rotation of the torso—which can happen when running or swimming.”
Also, Laudig attributes side stiches to your breathing, which makes sense because the muscles are next to your diaphragm—which is working overtime during cardiovascular intense workouts.
“When you exhale, you exhale in a pattern,” Laudig said. “If you exhale every time your right foot hits the ground, you’re more likely to experience the pain on the right side with your muscles in the right side expanding on every breath. In order to remedy it, control your breathing and take longer, deeper and more controlled inhales and exhales.”
Dealing with side stitches
Because side stiches are essentially cramps, it’s best to take preventative measures.
“It’s important to hydrate, warmup and stretch well before your workout, and if it’s a particularly long exercise, hydrate during your workout,” Laudig said. “Drink 16 ounces of water 30 minutes before cardio, and avoid eating just before exercise, as it can spur side stitches.”
Apart from staying hydrated and warmed up before exercise, Laudig recommended having plenty of potassium in your diet, as muscle cramps are usually a symptom of mineral depletion. Sports drinks can be a quick fix, as they often contain a good amount of vitamins and minerals, but a balanced diet (with plenty of fruits and veggies) will be better in the long run and is a healthier way to get all your nutrients.
The good news is that you don’t really have to worry about side stiches causing an injury, as they are self-limiting and don’t pose a threat to your health. “The pain is harmless,” Laudig said. “It can be detrimental to your performance, but pushing through the pain won’t injure you, and you can continue to give your maximum effort.”