Typically characterized by sharp, stabbing pains on either side of the abdomen, side cramps can affect all types of people. There are several types of these cramps, and the most common ones are running cramps or running stitches and menstrual cramps. The symptoms of side cramps are very similar, but their root causes might be very different. The most common causes of side cramps from exercise include food and drinks consumed before a workout, breathing patterns during exercise and overall workout intensity.
Side stitches or running cramps most commonly affect runners and swimmers. There are many theories behind this pain, though most experts agree that it is caused by a spasm of the diaphragm muscle. The reasons for this type of occurrence are numerous. Some exercisers might experience this pain from consuming drinks high in carbohydrates, such as concentrated fruit juices, right before a workout. Others might suffer from side cramps because they exercised too soon after eating a heavy meal or because they have intolerance to dairy or wheat products.
Another theory behind the main cause of side cramps is that running stitches are the result of poorly coordinated breaths with movement. For example, most runners exhale when their left feet touch the ground, and they inhale when their right feet touch the ground. When a man who is running exhales as his right foot hits the ground, he forces his liver to drop down on top of his diaphragm. The diaphragm typically lifts up during the exhalation motion, which means the two organs are not working in conjunction. The additional stress makes the diaphragm stretch more, which might lead to spasms and pain.
People who participate in high-intensity workouts might also be more susceptible to side cramps. Workouts that require the exerciser to raise his or her knees repeatedly can create abdominal contractions. This might cause the stomach to press down on the diaphragm. Intense exercise might also decrease blood flow to the diaphragm, which could cause it to spasm.
There are many ways to help prevent and treat side cramps. Some doctors recommend waiting an hour after eating before working out. Runners who spend time stretching their sides and abdominal areas might also prevent side stitches. If they do occur, experts recommend that the exerciser should try to slow down his or her breathing and incorporate longer, deeper breaths. Massaging the affected area might also help to increase blood flow to the diaphragm and relieve the pain.