What is side pain?

Written by paul bright
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What is side pain?
Side pain ranges from mild to excruciating. (BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Side pain, or pain near your rib cage and abdominal area, can be caused by many conditions. Temporary pain may be gas or a muscle pull, while more piercing or extended side pain can indicate kidney infection. Understanding the cause helps you describe the pain more accurately so your physician can use the right treatment.

Side Stitch

The side stitch pain occurs when running or swimming. Taking deep or forceful breaths expand your diaphragm. The diaphragm's muscles or ligaments become strained from your organs moving repeatedly. The right side cramps up if you breathe out as your right foot falls since that's where your liver, the body's heaviest organ, is located. Poor posture while running or running on a full stomach also causes the side stitch.

What is side pain?
Running causes side stitches. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Pulled Muscles

A pulled muscle causes side pain, particularly with your lateral muscles. Those are located on your back, extending from your upper shoulders and coming to a point right below your rib cage. Lateral muscle pain in your side comes from repeated resistance motions over your head, such as pull-ups, especially if the weight shifts over your centre line. If the pain is intense, persistent, and restricts movement over an extended period of time, consider seeing a physician to ensure there isn't a torn muscle.

What is side pain?
Pull ups cause strain in the lateral muscles. (Chris Clinton/Photodisc/Getty Images)


Your digestive system might be the cause of side pains, especially if you're having gas. Foods loaded with carbohydrates cause the most gas, including sugary meals containing lactose and fructose. If the gas builds up pressure, it forces movement against waste products in your intestines, causing sharp pain near the colon. Pain on the left side feels like a heart attack, while right side pain mimics gallstones.


Side pains may indicate kidney problems, since your kidneys are located on either side of your back just below the rib cage. Piercing pain that travels to the upper back characterises kidney problems. The kidneys filter out impurities from your body's systems and eliminates them through urine. Side pain may be accompanied by pain during urination or in the groin area. If you have a kidney infection, you may also experience high blood pressure and abnormal nail colour.

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