Experiencing stomach cramps while doing situps might make you want to give up working your abdominal muscles altogether. Cramps can be painful, and sometimes linger for several minutes. Most abdominal cramps can be prevented by taking some simple self-care measures, but if they occur repeatedly while doing situps, consult a doctor.
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If you are out of shape, exercising excessively or have bad form while performing situps, you are increasing the likelihood of an abdominal muscle strain occurring. A muscle strain is another way of saying your abdominal muscle has a tear in it. The resulting sensation can range from slight discomfort in mild strains, to intense pain if the tear is severe. Unlike cramps caused by other factors, the pain from a strain tends to linger and is worse upon movement. In addition to pain, other possible symptoms include swelling, bruising and stiffness in your abdominal muscles. If you suspect injury, rest the muscles and avoid further activity. Ice the affected muscles for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, every hour for up to four hours. If the pain does not dissipate, seek medical attention. To prevent injury, warm up and stretch your abdominal muscles before doing your situps. Avoid overexertion by building up the strength of your abdominal muscles gradually. Consult a personal trainer regarding proper form and other ways to strengthen your abdominal muscles.
Muscle cramps in the abdominal region usually occur in the area around or just below the rib cage, but they can happen anywhere in the abdominal region. The stomach muscles are particularly prone to cramping because they are so short, and they tend to stay contracted after vigorous activity. The pain from abdominal muscle cramps can be quite severe in some cases. Experts are not sure what causes muscle cramps, but conditions such as dehydration, electrolyte deficiencies, eating too soon before you work out and muscle fatigue play a part. If you suspect a muscle cramp, stop doing situps and massage the affected area until the cramp goes away. Gently stretching the abdominal muscles can also help. To prevent muscle cramps, eat a smaller meal no fewer than two to four hours before performing situps, and stay properly hydrated. Drink only a few cups of water right before exercise, however, to avoid having too much liquid in your intestines; excess liquid has the same effect as too much food and can lead to cramps. Drinking a beverage with added electrolytes can help, but avoid beverages with a lot of sugar and salt before your work out because they increase the likelihood of getting abdominal cramps. Avoid performing situps if your muscles are sore or fatigued.
In some cases, the cramping you experience is the result of an underlying digestive issue. For example, you might have an intolerance to certain types of food that can lead to gas, bloating and pain, and situps are only exacerbating the problem. Some substances, such as caffeine, alcohol and aspirin, irritate your gastric lining, causing cramps. Sometimes, an underlying medical disease is the cause of your cramping. Common culprits include gastritis, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. If you suspect a food might be causing the problem, try removing it from your diet. Common problem foods include dairy products, wheat products, beans and high-fiber vegetables. If removing problematic foods doesn't fix the problem, or if you have other symptoms including bloody stool, gas, bloating, belching or nausea and vomiting, consult a doctor to rule out an underlying gastrointestinal disorder.
Most abdominal cramps that occur while doing situps are the result of improper eating and drinking habits or overexertion, but other possible conditions can have the same effect. Some prescription medications, particularly statins, can cause muscle cramping of all kinds. Structural issues, such as scar tissue from surgery or a hernia, can cause pain if pressure is placed on the abdominal region. In rare cases, a tumor or degenerative nerve disease are to blame. If your abdominal cramps continue while doing situps, and no GI issue or injury was to blame, talk to your doctor regarding other possible causes. Discuss any medications to ensure cramps are not a side effect.
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.