Why Do I Get a Pain in My Side When I Work Out?

The short answer from an exercise physiologist
woman having side cramps during workout

Q: Why do I get a pain in my side when I work out?

A:  “Side stitches” are a common, but painful spasms of the diaphragm, a powerful muscle that separates your chest from your abdomen.

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In one study of 965 athletes, side stitches affected 75% of swimmers, 69% of runners, 62% of horse riders, 52% of aerobics participants, 47% of basketball players and 32% of cyclists. So needless to say, if you’re active or working out, your chance of experiencing one of these side stiches at some point or another is good.

There is no single reason why side stitches occur. The leading theory suggests increased blood flow to the liver and spleen. Another theory is that pain is caused by internal organs pulling down on the diaphragm. (This doesn’t explain why side stitches frequently occur in swimming, though.)

There is also the chance that an imbalance of electrolytes in the blood, such as calcium, potassium and sodium, contributes to side stitches.

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To avoid a side stich when you work out, do the following:

  • Regulate your breathing.
  • Warm up before starting your activity.
  • Be mindful of food before a run or activity.

– Exercise physiologist Christopher Travers, MS.

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