Arising from your body’s production of prostaglandins, menstrual cramps -- called dysmenorrhea in medical circles -- can lead to excruciating pain for many women, potentially limiting prolonged physical activity like running. Some women simply skip exercising during the few days leading up to and encompassing their menstrual period, but take heart if you’d rather not let menstrual cramps keep you from hitting the track. Not only is running with menstrual cramps possible, but putting time in on the track or pounding the pavement may actually help improve your symptoms, according to Bob Glover, co-author of “The Runner’s Handbook.”
Do pre-running stretches that target your abdominal muscles to help increase blood circulation, flexibility and muscle tone in your abdominal and uterine area, a key technique in naturally reducing pain from menstrual cramps. Put your hands on your hips, pull your abdominal muscles inward and rotate your hips slowly clockwise, just as if you’re using a hula hoop; perform 15 rotations clockwise, then reverse your direction and perform 15 additional rotations counterclockwise to minimize painful cramping, recommends Dr. Allan Spreen, co-author of “Smart Medicine for Healthier Living.”
Take a pain reliever about 30 minutes before hitting the pavement for your run. Opt for over-the-counter ibuprofen or talk to your doctor about prescription pain relievers, depending on the severity of your cramps, suggests Glover. Over-the-counter medication designed specifically to minimize menstrual symptoms serves as another option to dull the pain from severe menstrual cramps.
Dive into your run, focusing on short, intense bursts of running rather than a long, regular jog. Start out at a brisk walk, then quickly increase to a run as soon as you’ve warmed up your muscles adequately. This allows your body’s productions of endorphins to kick in more forcefully, which may help combat the painful effect of the hormones that trigger your cramps, recommends Sam Murphy, author of “Run for Life.”
Walk briskly to cool down during the final five to 10 minutes of your run. Follow up your run with a warm bath or apply a warm heating pad to your abdomen to minimize any remaining menstrual pain.
Depending on the severity of your menstrual cramps, you may also experience other problematic menstrual symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and bloating, that could affect your running. If necessary, slow down and walk for a while or abandon your run if your symptoms become too intense.
Talk to your gynecologist or primary care doctor if your menstrual cramps last for more than two to four days at a time or if they suddenly worsen for no apparent reason, as this may indicate a more serious health condition, such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.