Why Do Ribs Hurt After Running? 4 Surprising Factors

If you are among the novice running enthusiasts, you have probably experienced a condition called stitches or side stitches. This is the annoying condition where your ribs hurt after running or in some cases during your run. What is the cause of this pain on the side? How can it be prevented or minimized?


What Are Side Stitches?


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Side stitches are often felt just below the rib cage often on the right side of the body. In some cases, however, they can also be felt on the left or on both sides. The pain that is felt is a sharp stabbing like pain in severe cases and for mild stitches, a pulling sensation.

This pain is more often experienced by newbies at running who are not yet accustomed to the sport. In time, the pain usually reduces and disappears.

Causes Of Side Stich

The cause of stitches is still unclear, but there are common factors that may contribute to the condition.

Factor 1: Ligament Stretching


The ligaments between the diaphragm and stomach can experience pressure during the up and down movement of running. When these ligaments are pulled down, your internal organs are also pulled downward.

The ligaments hold all the muscles, organs and bones inside the abdomen so constant tugging on these ligaments may trigger the sharp side pain. This is why aside from running, sports such as horse riding also experience side stitches.

The problem with this theory is that other sports that do not involve the up and down movement of the ligaments in the abdomen also report side pain such as swimming.

Factor 2: Lack Of Oxygen


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When you run, you require a high amount of energy which in turn requires an increased supply of oxygen. To keep up with this demand, your lungs and heart need to work harder. If the need for oxygen isn’t met, muscles may cramp resulting in the side pain near the ribs.

Another contributing factor is ingesting certain foods before a run increases the need for blood and oxygen in the stomach which ultimately diverts blood from the diaphragm. In a study, however, this theory was tested, and it was discovered that poor blood flow to the diaphragm is a minor cause of stitches.

Factor 3: Poor Hydration


Being a strenuous sport, running can easily cause your body to become dehydrated especially if you are running outdoors on a sunny day. When you are dehydrated, your blood volume lowers which results in your body having a tough time transporting oxygen to your cells. The cramping experienced by stitches could be a result of a lack of oxygen triggered by dehydration.

Factor 4: Spinal Stress

This is said to be one of the most scientifically proven reasons for the rib pain experienced after running. According to a medical report, the pain experienced in the ribs during running can be replicated by putting pressure on the upper spine. This suggests that the pain in the spine can travel down to the diaphragm causing stitches.

In addition, this theory may explain why not only runners experience side stitches but also other athletes such as swimmers all of who put pressure on their upper spine during the sport.

Having a stress fracture is another kind of stress that can be caused by a crack in the bone due to overuse during physical activities such as running.

If you have the tendency to increase the intensity of your workout too rapidly or change the surface of your runs, you may also develop this condition. Stress fractures may also cause constant leg pain as you run.​

Prevention Of Side Stitches


Since the specific causes of side stitches are yet to be discovered, there is no one solution to assure your safety from them. There are however preventive measures that you can take in order to lower the chances of experiencing this pain.

  • Keep yourself hydrated by drinking lots of water before and after running
  • Take regular sips of water to stay hydrated during your run
  • ​Slow down when you feel the pain starting to a jog or walk
  • Breathe deeply to keep your oxygen levels high
  • Perform strength exercises to strengthen your back and abdomen
  • Stop and bend to a 90-degree angle if you experience the pain to help tighten your muscles.
  • Try not to run after a meal or note what you eat before your run.
  • Contact a therapist if you have extreme pain or reoccurring stitches 
  • Keep correct running form can also help prevent problems with your abs too. This also help if you have problems with shoulder pain. Proper running form includes keeping your head erect gazing straight ahead,keeping your torso in an upright position, maintaining proper stride length and having a good arm swing as you run.


​Experiencing sore ribs after running is something that can hinder your performance. Although there are no specific causes of the condition, factors such as ligament stretching, lack of oxygen, inadequate hydration and spinal stress are four of the common triggers of the condition. To prevent the condition from worsening, do your best to keep hydrated, breathe properly and perform strengthening exercises.

We hope you learned something from this article. We understand how basic stitches are and how they can affect you're getting the best of your run and hope this article gave you some insight. If you have any other ideas why ribs may hurt after running, please let us know by commenting below.