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Most runners experience some level of discomfort while running, but for some women, the pain can be more severe. This is usually caused by menstrual cramps, which can make running difficult. If you’re experiencing cramping when running, there are a few things you can do to help.
What Causes Cramping When Running?
There are many reasons you might experience cramps. These reasons will depend on the location of your cramps.
Stomach cramps can be caused by shallow breathing, which means that you don’t breathe deeply from your lower lungs. Or poor digestion due to eating too many calories before running. It’s harder to take large, deep breaths if you have too many liquids or food in your stomach.
Side cramps or stitches: Also known as side stitches, they occur below the rib cage and are often caused by shallow breathing or an imbalance of electrolytes (sodium/potassium).
Muscle cramps: Dehydration, poor stretching, and insufficient carbohydrate intake can cause severe muscle cramps in the legs and calves. Even seasoned runners who run too fast, too soon during a race are susceptible to muscle cramps. It’s a common reason why inexperienced runners fail to finish their marathons.
- Electrolyte imbalance in your body: Leg cramps can be caused by insufficient electrolytes.
- Exercising excessively: The calf muscles are at a tight, long-term, high-load state. This can cause leg cramps.
- Sleep deprivation: Running in fatigue can lead to high mental pressure and muscle tension. This can cause leg cramps.
Running shoes that are too narrow or too high can cause cramps and increase muscle pressure. To avoid cramps, make sure you have the right running shoes for your feet.
How to Prevent Cramps While Running
You can avoid stomach cramps by paying attention to how much you eat and drink before running. If stomach cramps become a problem, it is worth considering adjusting the amount, size, and content of your meal prior to running.
Stop running if you feel your cramps are caused by shallow breathing. Instead, focus on deep breathing and place your hand on your stomach. If you are breathing from your lower lungs, your stomach should feel the rise and fall.
For beginners, shallow breathing can be more problematic. As you improve your running skills and become fitter, your ability to control your breath will improve.
Side stitches can be a bigger problem for beginners but can also affect runners of all levels. Side stitches are commonly caused by running too fast at the start of a run, without warming up properly or breathing deeply.
If you are going for a long-distance run, you should start slowly and gradually increase your pace. For races and workouts, you should warm up before you start. If you get a cramp during your run, take a deep breath and stand tall.
Nervousness can also cause people to get stitches during a race. This can make it more difficult to breathe. Most people will revert back to shallow breathing when this happens. So, try to remain calm at the start line and practice deep breathing exercises to relax.
You should consider whether your running is properly hydrating if you experience muscle cramps. This is especially important when it’s hot, and you sweat more. Also, make sure to bring water with you if you are going for a long run or doing hard training.
You can also try a sports drink to restore electrolyte balance if the water isn’t working. You might want salt tablets if running a long distance on a hot day. This is because you lose a lot of sodium through sweat.
Sometimes, despite all your efforts, you may still experience a muscle spasm or cramp. You can massage the affected muscle immediately if this happens. This will increase blood flow and help to relieve the spasm. After the muscle has relaxed, stretch the muscle lightly and then run again. Don’t be afraid to slow down to prevent cramps from returning.
Talk to your doctor if your cramps persist despite all your efforts. Talk to your doctor if you feel that your cramps are not going away.
Also read: Lower Back Pain When Running: Causes And Treatments 2023
How To Treat A Cramp While Running
Even with all the preventive measures, cramps can still occur.
If you don’t feel too much pain, you might try to ignore it and go on until it gets worse.
You can slow down and concentrate on your breathing. It is tempting to alter your breathing to relieve the pain. However, this will only make the cramp worse.
Water is also important, so you might want to slow down and walk. You can rehydrate your muscles and get the recovery they require by taking this opportunity.
Stop running if you feel the cramps are getting too severe. To get the blood flowing again, massage the area in a circular motion. These two methods together will relieve your pain and get you back on the trail.
Here are some stretches that can help you get rid of the pain:
- You can do a lunging calf stretch by extending your arms forward and keeping your eyes on your back leg. You can feel it stretching, and you can breathe through the stretch. Switch legs, and then do the same with the other.
- Place your heel as close as possible to the wall and stretch against it. Your toes should point up almost as if they were climbing the wall. Let your toes stretch out by simply leaning into your calf.
- Downward dog: This is a classic yoga pose that will stretch your upper leg.
- If you feel so much pain that you cannot walk, you might want to stop running and rest.
Are you suffering from hip pain after running? Check out our post for more information: Why Does My Hip Hurt After Running? Causes And Treatments
What Can Physical Therapy Help With Side Stitches?
You might want to schedule a physical therapy appointment if you suffer from severe and chronic side stitch pain. A therapist will assess your spine, core stability, and posture. An experienced physical therapist will show you how to relax and release your abdominal and diaphragm tissues.
Exercises for stretching your neck muscles and back muscles will also be discussed. We’ll also work on strengthening our core, which will help in providing better support for our necks and backs.
Proper posture when standing, walking, or running can help reduce stress on the neck muscles and nerves and can be beneficial. Side cramps can be reduced or eliminated by improving breathing and blood flow. The neck, abdomen, back, and core muscles are also strengthened.
What to Eat and Drink
You should consider what you eat before you run to prevent stomach cramps. This could be due to poor digestion. You should take more time between running and eating.
We advise that if you feel crampy after eating for 2 hours or 3 hours earlier.
Pay attention to the impact of what you eat on your running. A simple carb is usually fine by itself (such as a piece of fruit) and water.
It is about finding the right combination for you. Galloway cites as an example how many people have reported to him that they experience gut problems after eating bananas but not apples before running.
Runners should drink enough fluid before they exercise to prevent muscle cramps.
Before you start training, drink 16-20 ounces.
During a training session, drink 2 to 4 ounces of water every 15 minutes.
A healthy diet should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and water-rich foods.
Sugar-free foods and gum are best avoided
Although stomach cramps caused by running are less common with sugar-free foods, if you’re a fervent gum chewer, be aware that these foods can cause stomach cramps. Sugar alcohols are used to make sugar-free gums sweeter than regular sugar.
Common Sugar Alcohols
- Xylitol (most common in gums)
Sugar alcohol can have an osmotic effect on the digestive tract. They pull water in. Your body can typically handle small amounts of sugar and alcohol if you are sedentary. A majority of people can chew just a few pieces of gum.
Sugar alcohols can cause cramping or diarrhea when combined with the osmotic effect and jostling during a run. You should avoid gum, but you may need to chew gum during a run.
Reducing the number of sugar-free foods you consume as part of your daily routine is also a good idea. Sugar-free cookies, ice creams, cakes, and ice creams often contain sugar alcohol.
Fiber is essential for digestive health. It helps to bulk up stool and prevent constipation. But fiber is important for your digestive health. It can cause cramping, and you will need to go to the bathroom immediately after a run.
Different people are able to tolerate different levels of fiber in pre-exercise meals. A moderate-fiber meal may be able to keep you regular in your training before you race.
If you know that oatmeal will empty your bowels and help you get up in the morning, you can do what you like. If you experience stomach cramps or diarrhea while training, it is worth looking at the pre-run meal to see if there are any ways to reduce fiber intake. High-fiber ingredients include:
- Lentils and beans
- Flaxseed and chia seeds
- Leafy greens
- Whole-grain pieces of bread, cereals
Fat is a filling nutrient. Fat slows digestion and makes us feel fuller for longer periods of time. This is great for daily life but not before training. It is not a good idea to start running with a belly that is still feeling full and risks cramping. These breakfast options are low in fat and high in fiber.
- Cereal mixed with milk and a banana
- Toaster waffle with peaches topped
- Bagel with a little cream cheese
- Poached eggs and rice
- Sandwiches with peanut butter, honey, and banana
This tip is only applicable to fat-adapted athletes who are following the keto diet. If you are a fat-adapted athlete, it is important to follow your regular routine, as food outside of this can cause stomach cramping. A standard, moderate carbohydrate diet is the best for most athletes.
Are you afraid of cramping or sloshing? You need to change your strategy. This can cause dehydration which can worsen stomach problems.
Your body uses blood to provide oxygenated blood to your muscles when you exercise at an intense intensity. This can lead to digestive problems.
This reduced blood flow can lead to dehydration. As your blood volume drops, less blood is flowing through your digestive system to process fuel. This can cause cramping, nausea, and vomiting.
It is difficult to reverse this situation once you reach it. Keep hydrated right from the beginning. In the days before your race or training session, drink enough fluids and keep hydrated throughout your run.
Exercises to Avoid Running Cramps in the Future
It’s great to have strategies for running cramps, but it’s even better if they don’t happen in the first place.
This is Dr. Bogden’s advice:
“The solution is doing press-ups or cobra stretches before running, standing back extensions if feeling symptoms coming on during a run, and adding lumbar support to work chairs and/or getting a sit-stand desk to help improve posture and reduce nerve irritation.”
Include flexibility and strength training in your weekly training program, along with your pre-and post-run stretches. These will increase your endurance and stamina for more than running every day.
It’s a great way to avoid cramps when running. You don’t have to rush to get fast or go far. It’s better to gradually build your endurance and follow a training program that suits your fitness level.
Tips for How to Avoid Cramps When Running
Hang Onto Good Form To Prevent Cramps
The hamstrings and quads are two groups of muscles that work together to power your stride when you run. If one group is picking up the slack for the other, muscle fatigue is likely to set in, leading to cramping. Good form powered by leg strength and balance is especially important in a long-distance run like the marathon.
Avoid Stomach Cramps and Side Stitches
While the mechanics of your running tend to hit the muscles mentioned above, there are also other ways to avoid cramps.
While it’s important to remember to hydrate throughout your day and also during a training session, there’s also a balance to strike. Overhydrate before you go out for your jog, and you’ll probably feel like you have a gallon of water jostling around in your stomach. Not the best feeling when you’re working out.
Oxygen fuels the muscles just as much as our hydration and calorie intake. Most runners have probably experienced the shooting pain of a stitch or cramp in their ribs. What causes this type of muscle spasm?
A side stitch is a sharp pain felt on the side of the body, typically in the ribs. It is caused by the diaphragm, the big muscle under your lungs, contracting. This type of muscle spasm is more likely to occur when the demand on the diaphragm increases, such as during exercise.
Avoid Cramps With the Right Hydration Strategy
There are a few things you can do to keep muscle cramps at bay. First, make sure you’re staying hydrated. You should be consuming enough water throughout the day so that your urine is light yellow in color. Second, replenish electrolytes by drinking sports drinks or eating foods high in sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Finally, stay cool by wearing loose, breathable clothing and avoid being in the sun for too long.
Hone Your Breathing
There are several potential causes of muscle cramps, but all of them can be alleviated by practicing deep breathing while running. When you breathe deeply and evenly, you activate your core muscles in a more efficient way and avoid cramping. Overworking your lungs and your core muscles with inefficient breathing will only lead to cramping faster.
Warm Up Properly
By moving your body through a series of movements like bodyweight squats, arm swings, and hip circles, you’ll increase blood flow to all your muscles. You’ll also get your joints ready for running by moving them through their full range of motion. Don’t get stuck by not knowing how best to warm up. Follow along with this quick, dynamic warm-up and make it a regular part of your training and racing routine!
Relax The Upper Body
In a long race, it’s very common to get stuck with those shoulders squeezed up to the ears, the arms bent tight to our sides, and little to no arm swing helping us drive the legs. To undo this, take a few steps to shake the arms and shoulders out, maybe even raising the arms up above your head. This will help reset your arm swing, which will, in turn, reset the power in your stride.
Shorten Your Stride
Cramps often occur when we overextend our stride. The further the foot reaches out in front of the body, the more the body has to work to keep up. Instead of focusing on reaching the foot out further, try drawing the focus to pulling the foot off the ground using the hamstrings. This will keep the foot close to the body and avoid having it too far in front. Picking the feet up a little higher will also turn on the hamstrings and glutes, allowing the hips to drive forward again.
Why do i get side cramps when I run
Shallow breathing or an imbalance of electrolytes (sodium and potassium) may cause side cramps or stitches. They usually occur below the rib cage and in the lower right abdomen. The sharp, piercing pain caused by stitches is more common in beginner runners.
Should I run after a cramp in the calf?
You should spend at least 10 minutes stretching your calves, hamstrings and quadriceps muscles before a run to prevent muscle cramps.
What causes cramps when running in the stomach?
In my experience, stomach cramping during runs is typically either caused by too much nutrition (i.e., gels, sports drinks) too quickly or dehydration (the runs). With that said, runners are able to train the stomach just like muscles. Therefore, if you think you took on too much nutrition, back off and go slow.
What are quad cramps while running?
The hamstrings and quads should always be working together when you run. They’re like partners in your leg, working to push and pull your leg as you stride forward.
Preventing muscle cramps during your run is all about preparing your body properly and stretching before and after your workout. Avoid running in extreme conditions or on hard surfaces, and make sure you’re drinking enough fluids and eating a balanced diet. Finally, massage your muscles after your run to help them recover. Thank you for reading!