How to Get Rid of Runner's Cramps

Have you ever been running along a trail, enjoying the scenery and the smell of tall pines until BAM—you get a nasty cramp? Whether it's a sharp stitch in the side of your abdomen or a sudden, piercing tightness in your calf or hamstring muscle, cramps can ruin an otherwise great run. But they don't have to if you understand how to deal with them when they occur.

Why Do Cramps Occur?

Despite the common occurrence of cramps, why they occur is still somewhat of a mystery to many physiologists and doctors. Scientists believe that side stitches, which they've given the fancy name of exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), results from either eating or drinking too close to running (especially food and drink that has a high sugar content) or from the movement of internal organs inside the abdominal walls, causing their connective tissue to pull on the diaphragm.

Side stitches affect nearly 70 percent of runners, which typically occur on the right side of the upper abdomen, are less prevalent in older runners and in those more fit.

Many runners think that muscle cramps are caused by dehydration and/or an imbalance in electrolytes, which could theoretically affect the ability of a muscle to contract. However, research has shown that dehydration and electrolyte imbalances are not the cause. Drinking a sports drink on your long runs, while important to maintain hydration, won't prevent you from cramping.

More: How Much Does Dehydration Affect Performance?

  • 1
  • of
  • 2
NEXT

About the Author

Jason R. Karp, Ph.D.

Dr. Jason Karp is one of the foremost running experts in America, 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 2014 recipient of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Community Leadership award, and creator of the Run-Fit Specialist certification. He holds a Ph.D. in exercise physiology. A prolific writer, he has more than 200 articles published in international running, coaching, and fitness magazines, is the author of five books, including Running for Women, Running a Marathon For Dummies, 101 Developmental Concepts & Workouts for Cross Country Runners, and 101 Winning Racing Strategies for Runners, and is a frequent speaker at international fitness and coaching conferences. Follow Jason on Twitter @drjasonkarp and Facebook at DrJasonKarpRunFit.

Dr. Jason Karp is one of the foremost running experts in America, 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 2014 recipient of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Community Leadership award, and creator of the Run-Fit Specialist certification. He holds a Ph.D. in exercise physiology. A prolific writer, he has more than 200 articles published in international running, coaching, and fitness magazines, is the author of five books, including Running for Women, Running a Marathon For Dummies, 101 Developmental Concepts & Workouts for Cross Country Runners, and 101 Winning Racing Strategies for Runners, and is a frequent speaker at international fitness and coaching conferences. Follow Jason on Twitter @drjasonkarp and Facebook at DrJasonKarpRunFit.

Discuss This Article