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.