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The Dreaded Side Ache

Like shin splints, side aches are also a very common occurrence for anyone who runs. The painful muscle spasm or cramping on the side of your abdomen, just below the rib cage, can leave you grabbing your side and hunched over the affected side. Although there is no conclusive reason as to why side aches occur, most believe that it is due to when the diaphragm spasms or cramps from the jostling of the pounding motion in combination with improper breathing techniques. Much like a leg cramp, the diaphragm can lack blood flow with the contractions while working and case the spasm to occur.

So what can you do if you get a side ache?

  • Slow down or stop all together. – Push your hand and fingers into the painful area and gently bend into the side that is cramping. Leaning forward slightly can help too. This will help relax the diaphragm and increase blood flow to the area.

  • Take deep breaths. – Slow your breathing down by taking deep breaths and slowly exhale. Slowing you breath down will help calm and relax your diaphragm as well. Some recommend that as you run, you should try to exhale when your opposite heel strikes the ground. This will help shift the balance away from the cramping side and allow it to relax a little more.

  • Lenghten and extend your rib cage. – Reach your hands over head and stretch them toward the sky. Hold this position as you focus on your deep breaths and slow exhales. The cramping muscles should start to calm down and the pain will begin to subside.

What can you do to help prevent from getting the dreaded side ache?

  • Pay attention to your breathing. – Shallow breaths can decrease the amount of blood and oxygen going to your muscles when they need it the most. Practice taking deep breaths into the belly rather than the shorter ones that only fill the lungs.

  • Pay attention to what and when you eat. – Just like swimming or any other exercise, it is not recommended to eat right before you go running. Try eating 30 minutes to 2 hours before hand so you have time to digest the food. Eating a small snack like a banana is ok, but never a full meal. It’s often not recommended to eat foods that are high in fiber or fat right beforehand as well, as they take longer for the body to digest.

  • Avoid drinking concentrated fruit juices or any beverage with sugar in it. – Stick to drinking water whenever possible. The concentrated amounts of glucose in fruit juices can pull water into your intestines and cause cramping.

  • Warm up before exercising. – Do some brisk walking or slow jogging and do some dynamic warm ups for 5-10 minutes before you start running. These will get the blood flowing and the muscles warmed up and help reduce the chances of getting muscle cramps or spasms.

  • Gradually increase the intensity of the workouts. – Go for duration rather than intensity when you start your workouts. Start at a slower pace, were you can control your breathing and not over exert your muscles. Side aches are a lot more common for people who are starting up a new program than an experienced athlete. Take your time building up your pace and stamina. If you start to feel a tinge of pain start to creep up, slow back down and relax your diaphragm.

When it comes to running, rhythm is your friend. Find a comfortable pace that you can maintain for a distance and where you can keep a steady, and deep, breathing pattern as well. If you start to feel a side ache happening, slow down and refocus your deep breath work. Always warm up your muscles to prevent cramps and spasms and stretch your muscles out afterwards. Your body will thank you. Happy running!


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