What is a Stitch?

A question put to me by my good friend Graham in Western Australia recently was, “Why do we get a stitch during exercise?”.

It’s a good question because it still continues to baffle scientists worldwide!

Theories such as ‘reduction in blood flow to the diaphragm’ and ‘organs pull on the ligaments that connect the gut to the diaphragm’ were popular theories, but have since been disbanded by the science world. The reasoning which I tend to use when explaining this issue, is also what is currently being regarded as the most probable cause for a stitch (for now anyway!).

Basically, there are two layers of membrane which line the inside wall of the abdominal cavity. One of these layers, the ‘Parietal peritoneum’ (no, this is not the name of a Transformer) covers the abdominal wall, whilst the other layer surrounds the organs of the abdominal region. Between these two layers is a fluid that generally prevents friction from occurring. However, if friction does occur, this pain is what is thought to be the considered a stitch.

So why would this happen?

It’s generally thought that having a full stomach or a reduction in this lubricating fluid is what will cause the friction, which is why easily digestible foods and hydrating long before game time is a much better preparation plan than smashing the liquids and a large meal an hour before the first siren sounds!

What about the stitch we get in our shoulder?

It is said that the parietal peritoneum is also attached to the Phrenic nerve, which is the only nerve to provide motor support for the diaphragm. Pain arising from friction in the diaphragm will work back up to the cervical spine nerves (C3-C5) that in turn, can refer pain out into the right shoulder! Crazy, huh?!

Something else the Phrenic nerve is famous for? Hiccups!

At this stage, this is by far the best reasoning I have found for why we get a stitch, but who knows, we may only have to wait another year or two before we hear a new interpretation of why this phenomenon occurs?! If you’d like to know more, then hit me up at gavin@gcpfitness.com

Until then, happy training!

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