Associate Professor Darren Tay, Senior Consultant from the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Singapore General Hospital​ (SGH), a member of the SingHealth​ group, shares the common types of cramps that occur while running and causes, and gives advice on how to relieve them.

Cramps are one of the most dreaded ailments for a runner.

In fact, runners of all abilities can experience some sort of cramping during a run, be it muscle cramps, stomach cramps or side cramps (stitches).

At the first warning sign of muscle cramps, stop and stretch. Remember to breathe deeply if you experience side cramps during a run.

Stretching can help relieve and stop muscle contractions. Resume running when the pain has eased but pick up speed gradually.

Watch the video below for tips to prevent cramps during running.


Related video: Plus, is running great for burning fat? Watch the video below to find out.  


7 ways to prevent cramps during a run

  1. Practise deep breathing

  2. As shallow breathing is a main cause of side cramps or stomach cramps during a run, learn to take deep, full breaths from the diaphragm and not from the chest.

  3. Stay hydrated

  4. You lose about half a litre of fluid per half-ho​ur of intense exercise. Prevent muscle cramps by drinking about 500 ml (16 oz, or two cups of water) at least two hours before a run. Before starting the race, drink another 125 ml (4 oz, or half a cup) of water. Subsequently, aim to drink about half a cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes during the run. Avoid carbonated drinks.

  5. Replenish electrolytes in your body

  6. Electrolytes such as sodium and potassium help with proper muscle contraction as well as general hydration. Profuse sweating during a long race, especially in hot and humid weather, may depl​ete your electrolytes and, in turn, cause muscle cramps. Consuming electrolyte-fortified sports drinks during a marathon or half-marathon may help prevent muscle cramps.

  7. Do stretch and warm up exercises

  8. To relieve the pain from side stitches, stop and raise your arms above your head. Stretch the opposite side the stitch. Repe​at several times until the pain eases. You should spend at least 10 minutes stretching your calves, hamstrings and quadriceps muscles before a run to prevent muscle cramps.

  9. Get a sports massage

  10. Going for regular sports massages can help relax knotted muscles and promote better blood flow to the muscles. You are less likely to get muscle cramps if muscles are stretched and flexible.

  11. Time your meals

  12. Wait at least two hours after a meal before you go running. Avoid heavy meals and especially fatty and deep fried foods as they are harder to digest.

  13. Build up speed gradually

  14. Running too fast during the early part of your run may cause overexertion and muscle cramps. Build up your pace gradually.

What causes cramps during running?​

The causes of cramps vary depending on the type of cramps:

  • Stomach cramps
    Shallow breathing and poor digestion due to eating or drinking too much before a race can cause stomach cramps.

  • Muscle cramps
    Dehydration, poor stretching and insufficient carbohydrate intake can cause severe muscle cramps in the legs and calves. Even seasoned runners who run too fast, too soon during a race are susceptible to muscle cramps. It’s a common reason why inexperienced runners fail to finish their marathon.

  • Side cramps or stitches
    Shallow breathing or imbalance of electrolytes (sodium and potassium) may cause side cramps or stitches. They usually occur below the rib cage and in the lower right abdomen. The sharp, piercing pain caused by stitches is more common in beginner runners.

With our handy tips in mind, we hope your next running session is a cramp-free one! (or at least with cramps that are easy to relieve with our helpful tips.

Ref: J22

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