“Runners Know a Stitch Hurts Time, But Its Cause Remains a Mystery,” by Kevin Helliker. The Wall Street Journal, Nov 1, 2014.
Ow, ow! At grade-school recess, I would often stop running, doubled over by a pain in my side. But I knew it was only temporary and would pass in a few seconds, like a brain-freeze from eating ice cream. It was familiar to all of us. We called it a “stitch.” Until this article, I assumed it was our own local slang.
I have not gotten a stitch in perhaps 70 years, even when running for exercise in my 50s. It is something I outgrew along with my corduroy knickers. But I remember it well, and know exactly what the author is talking about. For me, it was on my left side. The right side is more common, but I am left-handed. Girls never mentioned it. Either stitches were a boy thing, or girls were more stoic about it.
The cause of a stitch has not been pinned down—there are more important medical studies to be done—but the general assumption is that it is a spasm of the diaphragm caused by lack of oxygen, something like a prolonged hiccup. We do tend to outgrow it, but it can remain as a real problem for distance runners. A stitch can reduce them to a walk. “When it hits,” says one, “you’re either going to be stuck at the pace you’re at, or you’re going to slow down.”
Stitches also affect swimmers, equestrians, and even motorcycle riders, suggesting some other cause, such as an irritation of the abdominal wall. Whatever it is, if you find a stitch to be a problem, you could try the ancient cure recommended by Pliny the Elder: squirt the fresh urine of a nanny-goat in your ear.
Let me know if it works.