Sometimes known as a "stitch," a cramp in your side while you run can hinder your performance, whether you're running for speed or endurance. The often debilitating cramp can leave you behind the pack because you need to slow down to attend to the pain. Muscle cramps that are a result of running will eventually going away, but understanding their possible causes can help you know how to properly treat and prevent the pain so it doesn't stop you from reaching your running goals.
A runner can be inflicted with any number of running-related injuries, from calf cramps to shin splints and beyond. But the side pain from a cramp or stitch is hard to mistake. It often manifests as a stabbing pain felt just under the ribs that doesn't seen to subside unless you slow your pace. The pain is more often on the right side of the body and the pain quickly subsides when you slow your pace or stop. When you experience a side stitch, you may also experience headache and nausea.
Dr. Andrew Marks, chairman of the department of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons tells "The New York Times" that there isn't a proven reason for muscle cramps during exercise. At best, the explanation for side cramps come from a variety of aggravating factors, including drinking too much water, not drinking enough water, not being properly conditioned for running, fatigue or poor breathing.
When you get a side stitch while running, slow your pace and concentrate on your breathing. Pushing your body too hard when it is not properly conditioned is one of the aggravating factors for side cramps. While maintaining a slower pace, breathe enough oxygen into your body to fill your belly with air, which is sometimes called belly breathing This ensures that enough oxygenated blood is getting to all of the muscles in your body used for running. Avoid stopping suddenly, which can lead to lightheadedness. Instead, take a short walking break until the pain subsides and you're ready to pick up the pace again.
By adopting proper running practices, you can avoid side cramps to improve your time and endurance. Eat a light snack an hour before you run. This will give you the calories and energy you need to run without making your body feel full and sluggish. Always stretch before a run, focusing on your torso if you're prone to side pain. When attempting a new run length or speed, give your body time to adjust with plenty of training to avoid overexertion and keep your body well hydrated so it functions properly.
- Military.com; How to Avoid Stomach Cramps When Running; Stew Smith
- "The New York Times"; A Long-Running Mystery, the Common Cramp; Gina Kolata; Feb. 2008
- Cool Running; Belly and Chest Discomfort; Josh Clark
- "Introduction to Sports Medicine and Athletic Training"; Robert C. France; 2003