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Runners commonly experience rib cage cramps.
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The rib cage cramp, also known as exercise-related transient abdominal pain or a side-stitch, is very common. Even the most conditioned athletes experience these harmless pains during workouts. If the pain is under your breastbone and/or radiates down your left arm, seek medical attention.
Recognize Your Pain
A side stitch can greatly interfere with your performance while exercising. The pain is felt as a sharp cramping or pulling sensation in the area of your lower ribs and side of your abdomen. It is most commonly felt on the right side of your body. The pain begins and progressively worsens to the point where you have to stop exercising until the cramp disappears. It's nearly impossible to continue to exercise during a side stitch.
Understand the Cause
The exact cause of these exercise-induced side aches is unknown, but there are several theories surrounding their existence. This rib-cage cramp seems to occur more frequently if someone exercises too soon after eating. Not taking the time to warm up before exercising also increases your risk of side stitches as well as increasing exercise intensity too quickly.
It seems unconditioned athletes are more prone to side stitches, especially those with weak abdominal muscles. Quick, shallow breathing can also increase your risk of a side stitch during exercise. Other possible causes include cramping of the diaphragm due to decreased blood flow and the ligaments that connect the liver to the diaphragm being pulled on. Exercises with the highest incidents of these rib cage cramps are running, jogging, swimming, team sports and horseback riding.
Make It Go Away
If you've ever had a side stitch, you know the cramp spontaneously disappears once you stop exercising, but an intense stitch may have a lingering dull pain throughout the day. Once you feel the cramp starting, stop exercising immediately. Do not try to exercise through the pain since this can worsen the cramp. Lean forward, take a deep breath and exhale loud and hard like you're trying to blow out a candle that's three feet away from you. Apply pressure to the affected region by pushing into the area just below your right rib with your fingers and continuing the powerful breathing.
Prevent Future Side Stitches
There is no 100 percent effective method for preventing side stitches, especially since the exact cause is unknown, but there are things that may help. Wait to exercise until two hours after eating a meal and consume electrolyte replenishing drinks while working out. Warming up is an important component of exercise that helps prepare your body for higher intensities, so take a 10 minute walk before jumping in to your higher-intensity workout routine. If you're a runner or jogger, exhaling when your right foot hits the ground instead of your left foot may reduce your side cramp occurrence. Take deep breaths while exercising by inhaling deeply through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.