Prevent and Treat Abdominal Pain from Running

ab pain

Gut pain is a miserable and puzzling malady that can strike runners at any time.

What causes tummy-area troubles, and how can you prevent and treat them? 

To find out, ACTIVE chatted with Dr. Cathy Fieseler, a veteran sports medicine physician and the president of the American Medical Athletic Association.  

1. Side stitch 

This stabbing pain around the ribs—which Fieseler describes as “a poorly understood phenomenon that occurs during exertion”—is one of the most common and dreaded abdominal ailments among runners. 

A study published in 2015 by Australian researchers found that 70 percent of runners surveyed had experienced a side stitch in the past year. 

Possible causes:  

Doctors have a host of theories.

Belly organ ligaments pulling on the diaphragm may trigger stitches, but they could also be brought on by running too soon after eating.  

Studies show that processed fruit juices and high-carb beverages before and during exercise appear to be connected to searing side pain.  

Researchers have also noted that stitches tend to develop when runners land on their right foot as they exhale. 

“The diaphragm rises during exhalation, and the liver drops a little as the right foot strikes the ground,” Fieseler explains. 


Adjust your breathing pattern. For example, if the pain is on your left side, try to exhale when your right leg hits the ground.

When you’re not running, practice belly breathing, strengthen your abdominal muscles and do stretches to improve your posture. These exercises could help prevent stitches. 

Pay attention to what you ate and drank before the stitch and be open to changing your diet.  

If the pain persists or gets worse, see a doctor.  Gall bladder and liver disease and pneumonia can cause similar symptoms, Fieseler says. 

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