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Running, Side Stitches....and the Menstrual Cycle?
Disclaimer: Sorry gents, I’m going to talk about the menstrual cycle a bit. Deal with it.
This past weekend I did a sprint triathlon and all was going well until I got to the run and was hit hard by a side stitch about a mile into my run and I felt like I was being stabbed below the rib cage. Side stitches are particularly awful for me, because even with proper breathing and techniques to dull the pain, they still linger for 2-3 days (which can happen in some runners, though it’s not terribly common). Despite having a relatively high level of endurance (currently IM training) and having been active pretty much my whole life, this is still a problem I deal with sporadically and as a result I have done some extensive reading on the subject. During my research (ie. Google searches) I found that side stitches were more common among women than men, which made me wonder if there’s a link between the menstrual cycle and the occurrence of side stitches.
Here’s my mostly uneducated theory/not really a theory but more of a question: During the last two(ish) weeks of the menstrual cycle the female body has heightened levels of progesterone, which stimulates the phrenic nerve (a nerve that triggers diaphragm contraction). The phrenic nerve originates in the neck, and passes down between the lung and heart to reach the diaphragm, and irritation of this nerve is credited with the pain that some athletes describe in their shoulder during a side stitch. Is it possible that the stimulation of this nerve from heightened progesterone levels makes women more susceptible during the latter half of their cycle to suffering from a side stitch?
For all the ladies out there who get side stitches from time to time – have you ever noticed a link between these two events?
Has anyone ever seen/read anything about research done on this obscure and very specific topic?
Lastly, please note that I’m not looking for advice about how to breathe properly, deal with side stitches, etc. etc. I know that I got this most recent side stitch because I went out a little faster than I should have and while fiddling around with my stupid race belt I interrupted my breathing pattern and screwed myself over. What I want to know, however, is why sometimes I could do that exact thing and not be affected at all, while other times a side stitch will hit me almost instantly. (Also, please don’t tell me to go to the doctor, because I already have. I was given the same advice I already knew).
Another disclaimer: I have literally no background in science or anatomy or anything that would make me qualified to completely understand what I'm talking about, but I do have a lot of down time at work and Google. I'm hoping someone far more intelligent than myself on this matter can chime in.
- Please select the category that best fits you ("Yes" if you get side stitches, "No" if you do not)14 votes
Female, Yes  7.14%
Female, No  7.14%