Your diaphragm is the muscle that separates your abdomen from your chest cavity while acting as the main muscle controlling respiratory activities. With such heavy emphasis on the diaphragm when it comes to breathing, it is no wonder that certain activities that require heavy breathing, like running, can be painful if the diaphragm is impaired. But whether running can cause your diaphragm to bruise is another question.
When your muscles are bruised, it is called a contusion, and athletes of contact sports run a high risk of this type of injury, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Contusions are caused by direct or repeated blows to a certain body part, resulting in damage to underlying muscle fibers without breaking the skin. To damage your diaphragm this way while running, you would need to either fall, run into an object or experience some other sort of accidental trauma.
If, after running long-distance races, you experience pain in your chest that requires you to take quick, shallow breaths, you may have irritated your diaphragm or you may be having muscle spasms in your diaphragm or chest muscles, explains director of Sports Medicine in the Trinity Mother Frances Health System Cathy Fieseler, M.D. Fieseler suggests building up to marathon distances over long periods of time while including your racing speed in your training sessions. She also recommends staying well hydrated and checking your running form after you have been running for extended periods.
Muscle tears can occur in any muscle, including your diaphragm, from a direct blow or from overexertion. A mild tear, of 5 percent or less of the muscle, is sometimes called a "pulled muscle," but more severe tears can rip completely through muscles, leaving them without the ability to contract. If the diaphragm is torn, this will cause great difficulty in expanding the lungs or drawing in breath. Proper warm-ups can reduce your risk of muscle tears.
The side stitch most novice runners experience is a muscle spasm of the diaphragm caused by breathing more quickly and not as deeply as more experienced runners. When you endure a muscle spasm, stretching is the best remedy. To stretch the diaphragm muscle, inhale deeply, hold the air in your lungs for a few seconds, then exhale forcefully through tight lips. Another technique is to change your breathing pattern. If you always exhale when your right foot strikes the ground, switch to inhaling with your right foot instead. Take big, deep breaths throughout your run to avoid side stitches, and avoid solid food at least one hour before long runs, advise personal trainers at Body Results.
Other Causes and Warning
Other medical problems can result in chest pain that may be mistaken for a bruised diaphragm, including inflammation of lung lining, called pleurisy, or heart problems, such as angina or heart attack. Typically, bruised or torn muscles feel tender when you use your finger to press on the area, but the diaphragm is difficult to test. Check with your doctor to confirm the source of your pain before treating problems at home. Rest, ice, over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and heat are home treatments your doctor may recommend.
- Beltina.org: Diaphragm - What Is, Function and Definition
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Muscle Contusion (Bruise)
- Running Times: Ask the Coaches: Cramping/Tightness of Diaphragm
- Sports Doctor, Inc.: That Painful Pull
- BodyResults.com: Side Stitches -- Causes, Cure, Prevention
- MedlinePlus: Chest Pain