It's not uncommon to experience lower abdominal pain when standing up or moving from time to time, especially if you're keeping a vigorous pace. But discomfort that keeps coming back could be a sign of an underlying problem.
"Abdominal pain that worsens when moving around can have a great variety of causes," says David Cutler, MD, family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "The source of pain could be from nerves, the musculoskeletal structure, the intestines, other abdominal organs, the heart and blood vessels, the urinary system or the genital organs."
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Figuring out the culprit can take some detective work, starting with paying attention to your symptoms. Here are some of the most common reasons for stomach pain when walking or standing along with what you can do to feel better.
1. Side Stitch
Sudden sharp pain or cramping in your abdomen while doing vigorous activity often comes from a side stitch or cramp, a spasm of the muscle that separates the abdomen and chest.
Experts don't fully understand what causes side stitches, but they could happen from increased blood flow to the liver and spleen, per the Cleveland Clinic. Eating shortly before activity can also trigger these cramps.
Fix it: Slowing down, taking a few deep breaths and using your fingers to apply gentle pressure to the affected area will usually help the pain ease up, the Cleveland Clinic notes.
To help prevent a side stitch from happening next time, avoid eating for two hours before being active.
2. Muscle Strain
Stomach pain or tenderness that starts suddenly and becomes more noticeable when you stand up, move quickly, cough or sneeze could be caused by an abdominal muscle strain.
Strains are a stretch or tear in the stomach muscle, and they can happen from excessive physical activity, lifting heavy objects or even an intense bout of coughing or sneezing, Dr. Cutler says. Activities like walking don't usually make your stomach sore unless you overdo it.
Fix it: Most abdominal strains get better on their own with some TLC. Alternate applying cold and warm compresses, and take over-the-counter pain relievers to bring down the inflammation, per the Cleveland Clinic.
If at-home measures aren't helping, a physical therapist can show you stretching and strengthening exercises to aid your recovery.
3. Gastrointestinal Disorders
Problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can both lead to lower abdominal pain that gets worse when you move around, says Dr. Cutler. You might also experience frequent cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation.
With IBD, which is a much more serious disorder, a person may also have rectal bleeding, bloody stools, weight loss or fatigue.
Fix it: While IBS and IBD are distinct disorders, both are chronic conditions that require lifelong management. Avoiding foods that trigger your symptoms can be an important part of keeping your symptoms in check. IBD may also require medications like corticosteroids, immunomodulators or biologics, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
4. Pinched Spinal Nerve
When excess pressure is placed on a nerve and its surrounding tissue (from sports, an injury, arthritis or having overweight), it becomes pinched or compressed. A pinched nerve in the lower spine, sometimes called a ruptured disc, can cause a sharp, aching or burning pain in your back. In some cases, the pain could radiate towards your lower abdomen when you move, Dr. Cutler says.
Fix it: Stopping any activities that are causing pain and physical therapy can start to relieve some of the nerve pressure. Medications like NSAID pain relievers or corticosteroids will help further ease your discomfort by reducing inflammation. If the problem doesn't ease up after several weeks or months, your doctor might recommend surgery to repair the nerve, the Mayo Clinic notes.
Lower-right abdominal pain when walking could be a sign of appendicitis. The appendix is a small, finger-shaped pouch located in your lower right abdomen. Appendicitis — when the appendix becomes inflamed — typically causes sudden pain that starts around the belly button and moves to the lower right side. "This pain often worsens with movement," like coughing, walking or jumping, Dr. Cutler says.
Fix it: Seek medical attention if you think you have appendicitis. In most cases, treatment requires surgery to remove the appendix, and waiting too long could increase the risk for life-threatening infection.
6. Kidney Stone
Kidney stones — those tiny, crystal-like bits that form in the kidney from substances in urine — can cause severe abdominal pain that worsens when you move around. "The pain often radiates from the lower back to the groin area," Dr Cutler says.
Other symptoms include blood in your urine, fever or chills, vomiting, smelly or cloudy urine and burning while urinating, per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
Fix it: Small kidney stones, while painful, can usually be passed via urination without treatment. Stones that cause significant symptoms or that block the urinary tract may need to be removed by a urologist, per the NIDDK. You should also seek medical attention if a kidney stone is making you vomit, because that could lead to dehydration. Paying attention to your diet and avoiding foods high in oxalates can help keep future stones at bay too.
7. Ovarian Cyst
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form in the ovaries, and they can sometimes cause lower abdominal pain when you walk or do other exercise, Dr. Cutler says. It's also possible to feel a sharp pain in your lower abdomen when you stand up quickly or make other sudden movements.
Cysts can also cause bloating, swelling, pain during sex and abnormal spotting or bleeding, per the Office on Women's Health.
Fix it: Let your gynecologist know if you think you have an ovarian cyst. Most are harmless, but your provider might recommend pain relievers to ease the discomfort or suggest taking hormonal birth control to lower your risk for future cysts.
Seek immediate medical attention if you've been told you have an ovarian cyst and are experiencing a fever, vomiting, sudden or severe pain, dizziness or rapid breathing, per the Office on Women's Health. These could be signs that the cyst has ruptured.
Endometriosis is a disorder where tissue that typically lines the uterus grows outside of the organ. It can cause heavy or painful periods, painful sex and pain during bowel movements or urination, among other possible symptoms. Symptoms tend to be worse during your period, and the pain often gets worse with movement, Dr. Cutler says.
Fix it: Pain medication and hormonal birth control to skip your periods can help relieve discomfort and slow endometrial growths for people who aren't trying to get pregnant. Surgery to remove endometrial growths is another option, especially if you're trying to become pregnant and your doctor suspects the growths could be affecting your fertility, the Mayo Clinic notes.
9. Stomach Ulcer
Stomach pain when walking could be from a stomach ulcer. Also called peptic ulcers, these are sores that form on the inside lining of the stomach or the upper part of the small intestine.
The most common symptom is a burning stomach pain, which might get worse when you're moving around, Dr. Cutler says. You might also feel full or bloated, notice trouble digesting fatty foods or experience heartburn or nausea, per the Mayo Clinic.
Fix it: See your doctor if you think you might have an ulcer. Some ulcers are caused by bacterial infections and require antibiotics. Per the Mayo Clinic, your provider might also prescribe an acid blocker like a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) or histamine (H-2) blocker, or other medications to help the ulcer heal. Avoiding foods that trigger your symptoms can also make a difference.
Hernias form when a gap in the muscle wall allows the contents of the abdomen to stick out. They can affect anyone and can form in the abdomen or groin. Abdominal hernias can cause pain or pressure that gets worse when you're walking or standing, Dr. Cutler says, and especially when you're lifting something heavy, running or straining. You might also notice a bulge where the hernia is.
The pain is usually localized, meaning if the hernia is on your left side, you may have lower left abdominal pain when walking or moving around.
Fix it: Surgery is usually needed to repair a hernia and keep it from coming back. The procedure can strengthen the abdominal wall and close up any holes, sometimes using a mesh patch, according to the National Library of Medicine.
11. Gallbladder Disease
When the gallbladder — the sac under the liver that stores bile — becomes inflamed, infected or develops stones or a blockage, it can cause a steady pain on the ride side along with nausea, vomiting or gas. "The pain typically worsens with eating but may also be aggravated by movement," Dr. Cutler says.
Gallbladder disease is more likely to occur if you eat a high-cholesterol diet, have overweight or are over age 60, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Fix it: Pain medications and antibiotics can help manage gallbladder pain or infections. But the only permanent way to address persistent symptoms is removing the gallbladder, the Cleveland Clinic notes. This can usually be done via minimally invasive surgery.
12. Heart Attack
Heart attacks occur when a blood clot in an artery blocks the flow of blood to the heart. They're usually marked by chest pressure or tightness; pain that spreads to the shoulder, jaw or upper abdominal area; fatigue; a cold sweat; dizziness; nausea or shortness of breath, according to the Mayo Clinic. But in some cases, you might also notice abdominal pain that gets worse when you move around, Dr. Cutler says.
Fix it: A heart attack is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention. If you or someone you know is experiencing possible symptoms, call 911 immediately.
13. Stomach Aneurysm
An abdominal aortic or stomach aneurysm is a more serious cause of stomach pain when standing up or walking. This condition happens when the main artery that delivers blood to the lower body weakens and begins to bulge or swell. It can cause back, leg or abdominal pain that doesn't go away and might get worse with movement, Dr. Cutler says, along with a pulsing, heartbeat-like sensation in the stomach.
Stomach aneurysms most often occur in people assigned male at birth who are over 65 and smoke, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They can potentially be life-threatening, because a ruptured aneurysm can cause severe internal bleeding.
Fix it: Small stomach aneurysms that aren't at risk for rupturing can be monitored with ultrasounds. If an aneurysm is large or shows signs of rupturing, surgery is required to repair the artery, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Seek emergency medical attention if you suspect that a stomach aneurysm has ruptured: Possible signs include sudden or severe abdominal pain, clamminess, dizziness or fainting, nausea or vomiting, rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath.
When to See a Doctor
Mild abdominal pain when walking or standing that eases up on its own (like a side stitch or muscle strain) isn't typically cause for concern. But you should seek medical attention for movement-related abdominal pain that isn't going away, is sudden or severe or continues to get worse.
"For many of these more serious conditions delaying the diagnosis and treatment can result in serious complications and worse outcomes," Dr. Cutler says.
- Cleveland Clinic: "Side Stitch: What It Is and How To Get Rid of the Pain"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Abdominal Muscle Strain"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Pinched Nerve"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Definition & Facts for Kidney Stones"
- Office on Women's Health: "Ovarian Cysts"
- Mayo Clinic: "Endometriosis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Peptic Ulcer"
- National Library of Medicine: "Hernia"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Gallbladder Disease"
- Mayo Clinic: "Heart Attack"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm"
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Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.