Backed up blood causes pain in side


August 27, 1991|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,United Feature Syndicate

You're running along at a fast clip, smiling as you pass slower runners, when suddenly you feel an excruciatingly sharp pain just under your ribs on the right side of your body. It forces you to slow down to a walk. What is it?

You probably have a side stitch.

When you run or ride a bicycle very fast, the large muscles in your legs act as a second heart, pumping blood back to the heart. Each time your leg muscles relax, the nearby veins fill with blood. When the leg muscles contract, they squeeze the blood out of those veins so it can return to the heart, which in turn pumps it out to the rest of your body.

But your legs can sometimes pump far more blood to your heart than the heart can pump out to your body. The blood backs up behind the heart and fills your liver, causing the liver to enlarge significantly. But your liver is surrounded by a tight capsule of tissue that cannot expand. The blood-swollen liver stretches its capsule until you feel pain just under your ribs, on the right side, where your liver is located.

Never try to run through a side stitch. That will only swell the liver more and increase your pain. Stop, even if you are in a race, or at least slow down. This change in pace stops your legs from pumping so much blood back to your heart, allowing it to catch up on the blood backlogged behind it.

When a side stitch strikes, reach under your ribs with your fingers and press firmly where you feel pain to push some blood from the liver. Also, purse your lips and blow out forcibly. This relaxes the huge diaphragmatic muscle, which is hurting because it is being pushed by the swollen liver.

Now you can get back to your running or cycling.

Q: Will an occasional drink of alcohol improve performance in sports and sex?

A: The only athletes helped by drinking alcohol are shooters. A small amount of alcohol can steady their hands. Alcohol decreases athletic endurance. It weakens your heart muscle so less blood is pumped to the body. It increases the amount of oxygen your body needs, so you will feel tired sooner. It makes you sweat more, so you get dehydrated more quickly. And it makes muscles use up more carbohydrates for fuel, so you run out of energy earlier.

Drinking a small amount of alcohol may improve sexuality for people who are very inhibited, by helping them to relax. However, regular drinkers make love less frequently than non-drinkers do. Heavy drinking drowns sexual desire.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

United Feature Syndicate

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