Running is an effective way to improve cardiovascular fitness and maintain a healthy weight. Further, running is an affordable sport, requiring nothing more than a good pair of running shoes. Unfortunately, both experienced and new runners know that running can sometimes lead to pain and discomfort. A common ailment is the dreaded side cramp that can slow you up or maybe cause you to give up on your run for that day.
Side cramps, or side stitches, usually occur on your right side around your rib cage. While the precise cause of side cramps is unknown, some experts speculate they are caused by changes in blood flow to the abdominal viscera or connective tissue tugging on your diaphragm with each step. Cramps can be very painful and may hinder your run. Many people new to running experience side cramps, but more experienced runners can also get them. Side cramps can also occur in swimming and physical activities other than running.
You can reduce your chances of developing side cramps while you run by focusing on your running form. Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and former Navy Seal Stew Smith also recommends not eating solid food or drinking large amounts of water less than two to four hours before exercise; stretching the side and torso before running and strengthening lower back and abdominal muscles.
Too little hydration may also trigger cramps, so you need to balance your intake. The recommended amount of water you should drink daily is eight 8-ounce glasses, or 64 ounces. Rather than drinking large amounts at one time, keep a water bottle with you throughout your day to maintain adequate hydration. Stick to sips of water right before and during your run.
Relieving Side Cramps
Sometimes side cramps can't be avoided, but you can take some steps to minimize their duration and pain level. The best thing to do to get rid of a cramp is to stop running and walk until it goes away.You can try pressing your fingers against the painful area while continuing your run or bending over at the waist while exhaling forcefully. It may help to simply slow down and focus on your breathing for awhile. Smith recommends breathing in a 3:2 ratio, fully inhaling through three foot strikes and fully exhaling through two foot strikes. For example, you inhale as you land on your left foot, right foot and left foot and then exhale as you land on your right foot and then your left foot again. As you run, tell yourself to breathe in over three foot strikes and breathe out over two foot strikes.
- Medline Plus; Water in Diet; May 2011
- Military.com; Breathing During Exercise; Stew Smith
- "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise"; Investigation of the Side Pain "Stitch" Induced by Running After Fluid Ingestion; BT Plunkett, et al.; Aug. 1999
- Military.com; How to Avoid Stomach Cramps while Running; Stew Smith