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A stitch

Posted by James Briggs on January 10, 2004

In Reply to: A stitch posted by Ward Fredericks on January 10, 2004

: : : When I was a kid, I'd often gulp my milk or food down too quickly, which would result in a pain in my tummy that my parents always called a 'stitch'. I was reminded of that tonight, when I ate my pasta too quickly and I got that same tummy pain. I sat back holding my stomach, much to the concern of my partner. So I told him it's OK, it's only a 'stitch' - which is of course a temporary pain that passes. Something I haven't experienced for some years because I've mostly grown out of gulping my food down.

: : : So why on earth would a pain in the tummy from eating too much too quickly, be called a 'stitch'? Is this only an Aussie term, or is it commonly used in any English speaking country?

: : This phrase has its origins in that well known Weight Watchers proverb 'A stitch in time saves nine' which, as everybody knows, refers to the fact that that pain in the stomach prevents you from overeating and hence accumulating an extra nine pounds of body mass. It's fallen into disuse amongst some populations of English speakers after a spate of deaths occurred when doctors ignorer severe stomach in the belief that they were the result of over indulgence when, in fact, acute appendicitis would have been a more accurate diagnoses. It became an acceptable practise to strike doctors off the medical register for any, and all, such mistakes and they, in turn, impressed on their patients the need to report all stitches as an emergency. Thus, from that time until the present day, most English speakers will reach for the telephone and dial the emergency number if anyone within earshot complains of having a stitch.

: :::In the States, the use of the term is now more related to exercising, and a marathon runner will get a stich in the side. This sharp pain while running is presumably caused by a muscle spasm in the diaphram, likely the result of inadequate oxygen getting to the muscle. In Goddess case, it may have been the result of inadequate breathing while eating too fast.
: Runners here complain about stiches, and try to adjust their breathing to lessen the pain. My mom
: told me to chew my food 28 times and not to eat too fast or I would get a stich in my tummy --- and that was 55 years ago! So the term was used in the US as well.

When I was a lad in the east end of London - more than 55 years ago, I might add! - a 'stitch' was the pain you got in your side when you were out of breath from too much exercise. I've never heard it used regards food. What is the modern explanation for the breathless type of stitch? I guess it may have to do with lactic acid build up, but why in the chest? Even as a medical doctor, I don't know the answer. Information please!