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Cross Training For Runners

The Pain-Free Run: Unlocking the Secrets to Overcoming Lower Abdominal Discomfort

8 Mins read

If you’ve never experienced the discomfort of lower abdominal pain while running, consider yourself fortunate. Whether it’s an unexpected stomach cramp, a pesky side stitch, or the desperate need to find the nearest porta-potty, these stomach troubles can truly put a damper on your runs.

Imagine this: you’re in the zone, feeling unstoppable, and then out of nowhere, it hits you like a sucker punch. The pain in your lower abdomen can come without any warning. Sometimes, it’s just a passing discomfort that vanishes after a few minutes. But for others, it clings on stubbornly, tormenting you for the entire duration of your run. Talk about annoying, right?

But fear not! When it comes to stomach pain while running, I’m here to shed light on the likely culprits and equip you with the tools to fight back. You see, identifying the cause of your abdominal agony is the first step towards finding relief and preventing it from sabotaging your runs.

So, are you ready to explore the top 4 causes of lower abdominal pain while running?

Then let’s go!

Lower Abdominal Pain Cause – 1: Side Stitch

Ah, the side stitch. If you’ve ever experienced this stabbing pain around your ribs while running, you’re not alone. Also known as exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), side stitches are one of the most common abdominal issues among runners.

The pain can be achy or dull, as well as sharp and stabbing, coming out of nowhere without any warning. Research published in 2015 by Australian researchers revealed that 70 percent of runners surveyed reported having experienced a side stitch while running in the past year. That’s how common it is.

What causes side stitches, you ask? Well, science isn’t entirely sure, but there are many theories. One popular theory is that the pulling of the belly organ ligaments on the diaphragm is the culprit. It could also be brought on by the bouncing forces inside the abdominal wall as well as running too soon after eating.

Other common causes that may contribute to side stitches include bad form, improper breathing technique, and consuming too much food or drinks before a run.

How To Manage Side Stitches While Running

If you’re mid-run and a side stitch strikes, slow down your pace and take a break. You can bend forward at the waist while engaging your core muscles and taking deep breaths. This helps to stretch your diaphragm and reduce the pain.

Another technique is to place your hand in the affected region and push gently with your fingers while inhaling. On each exhale, push a little deeper into the stitch until it starts to fade away.

Never Run on a Full Stomach

Running on a full stomach is a recipe for disaster. The food in your stomach will bounce around and can lead to cramping and pain.

Instead, space out your meals and runs by at least three to four hours. If you’re prone to stomach cramps, then give yourself even more time between eating and running. And make sure to stay hydrated.

Hydrate Properly

Dehydration can also cause cramping. It’s important to stay hydrated before, during, and after your run. Sip small amounts of water before and during your training session, and make sure to drink plenty of water post-workout.

If you plan to run for more than 45-60 minutes, then take water with you and sip regularly throughout your run. This is especially important in hot temperatures when you’re more likely to become dehydrated.

Change Your Breathing

Changing your breathing pattern can help to prevent side stitches. Try inhaling on three steps and exhaling on two steps. If you’re trying to pick up the pace, try a 2:1 ratio, inhaling on two steps and exhaling on one. Just remember to slow down for a few minutes to allow yourself to keep up with the pattern.

In conclusion, managing and preventing side stitches while running takes a bit of effort and discipline, but it’s definitely worth it. Follow these tips, and you’ll be able to run pain-free in no time!

Lower Abdominal Pain Cause – 2: Heart Burn

Are you feeling a burning sensation in your chest or upper abdomen while running? You may be experiencing heartburn, a common cause of abdominal pain during exercise. Heartburn occurs when stomach acid travels back up into the esophagus, causing discomfort and other unpleasant symptoms like burping and belching.

But what causes heartburn during running? As a high-impact sport, running can disturb the flow of acidic content in your stomach, leading to heartburn. The harder you push yourself, the more likely you are to experience this unpleasant sensation. Additionally, if the lower esophageal sphincter muscle is worn out or too relaxed, stomach content can escape into the esophagus, causing trouble.

The diet also plays a significant role in exercise-induced heartburn. Foods that are high in acid, spicy, or carbonated can contribute to this uncomfortable sensation. If you experience heartburn frequently, it could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

How To Manage Heart Burn While Running

If you want to manage heartburn while running, there are a few things you can do:

Change Your Diet

Start by changing your diet and avoiding triggers like chocolate, tomato-based foods, citrus, spicy foods, and orange juice. It’s also important to avoid eating at least two hours before running and to experiment with different amounts of time between eating and exercise. For some runners, a small snack 30 minutes before a run can be enough, while others need to wait three to four hours.

Loosen Your Waistband

Don’t forget to wear comfortable clothing while running. Tight clothing that compresses your stomach can be a culprit behind heartburn, so make sure you’re wearing a comfortable pair of running shorts and legwear. If you’re wearing a belt, try loosening it, and pay attention to any compression garment you’re using.

Additional resource – Your guide to Runners cough


Taking over-the-counter drugs, such as Mylanta, nexium, or chewable antacids, may also help.

Antacids work best as it’s the ingredient that neutralizes stomach aches. It works the fastest and be taken during your training if symptoms develop.

For stronger medication, try H2 blockers which you can get with a prescription.

Lower Abdominal Pain Cause – 3: Stomach Muscle Cramps

Have you ever experienced sharp pain in your stomach while running? If yes, then you’ve probably experienced stomach muscle cramps. These involuntary muscle contractions can strike out of nowhere and can be debilitating.

Several factors can cause stomach muscle cramps, such as running in the heat, dehydration, lack of warm-up and stretching before training, and muscle fatigue and exhaustion. When you eat food just before running, your digestive system and muscles start fighting for blood flow, and if the digestive system wins, your muscles won’t get enough oxygen and nutrients to perform at their best.

How To Manage Stomach Muscle Cramps While Running

Deal with and prevent stomach cramps while running by doing the following.

Stop What You’re Doing

If one of your stomach muscles seizes up while running, stop running and gently stretch and massage the muscle with your fingertip. In most cases, the pain will fade quickly on its own. Feel free to apply ice to soothe any lingering soreness and heat to loosen tight muscles. If you’re not a fan of cold compression, try a hot compression pad.

Additional resource – Side stitches while running

Stay Well Hydrated

Muscles are less pliable when they aren’t properly lubricated, especially during running. This, in turn, may set the stage for cramps.

As a rule of thumb, drink plenty of water throughout the day. This will help ensure that you’re well-hydrated at any moment of the day.

More specifically, drink 12 to 16 ounces of water the hour before a run. Planning to run for more than 30-45 minutes? Drink two to four ounces every 10-15 minutes during your run.

Additional Resource – Can You Run With An Abdominal Strain?


I cannot emphasize enough the importance of warming up properly before a run, especially when it comes to preventing running pains—muscle cramps are no exception.

Cold muscles are also prone to overstretching, which, again, may cause a cramp.

Additional Resource -Your guide to jaw pain while running

Dealing with Stomach Muscle Cramps and Abdominal Strains While Running

Lower Abdominal Pain Cause – 4: Abdominal Strain

Abdominal strains are less common than stomach muscle cramps but can be equally painful. An abdominal muscle strain is caused by actual trauma or injury to the abdominal muscles, which can cause extreme pain with any core movement as well as deep breathing, laughing, coughing, or sneezing.

Several factors can cause abdominal muscle strain, such as intense sprinting, sudden twisting or fast movement, bad running form while spiriting, lack of proper rest for overused muscles, lifting heavy objects with improper form, bad weight-lifting technique, and sneezing, laughing, or coughing too hard.

How To Manage Abdominal Strains While Running

Take the following steps to help speed up recovery and prevent abdominal strains while exercising:


To soothe pain, consider taking over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, such as naproxen sodium (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil). This helps relieve swelling and inflammation.

Core Work

Strengthen your core if you’re prone to abdominal muscle tears.

Core training will not only help you prevent abdominal pain but can also help prevent overuse injury as well as improve performance.

Some of the best core exercises to perform include:

  • Planks
  • Russian twists
  • Bridges
  • Boat
  • Mountain climbers

Medical Conditions

Lower abdominal pain while running can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Here are a few conditions that may contribute to lower abdominal pain:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs): UTIs are caused by bacteria in the urinary tract and can cause pain and discomfort in the lower abdomen. If you’re experiencing frequent urination, pain or burning during urination, or cloudy urine, you may have a UTI.
  • Digestive disorders: Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and discomfort, which may be exacerbated by running. If you have a history of digestive issues, talk to your doctor about how to manage them while running.
  • Endometriosis: This is a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus, causing pain and discomfort. Endometriosis can cause lower abdominal pain, especially during menstruation, and may be worsened by running.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), endometriosis, or hernias, it’s important to consult with your doctor before running. They may recommend specific modifications to your running routine to manage your condition while minimizing the risk of lower abdominal pain.

Consult A Physician

If the pain is too excruciating and/or you experience a complete loss of muscle function, consult a doctor immediately, as it may indicate a complete tear.

Otherwise, most cases of abdominal muscle strains can be managed at home by:

  • Applying ice on the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes, three to four times a day, to help soothe swelling.
  • Stopping any type of vigorous activity that makes the pain worse
  • Wrapping an elastic bandage around your midsection helps limit movement and swelling.

Apply this protocol for at least three days after the injury. Return to running gradually only when the pain and swelling have been faced.

Additional resource – Common cause of lower leg pain while running

Stomach Pain While Running – When To See A Doctor?

If you’re chronically suffering from stomach problems while exercising, you might be dealing with an issue not directly related to your workout routine.

When it’s the case, consult a doctor to be evaluated for proper treatment.

This is especially the case if normal daily activities such as sitting, walking, or sleeping are disturbed because of your stomach pain.

Visit a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Stabbing pain with a burning sensation,
  • Tenderness around the abdominal region followed by over sweating
  • Frequent constipation
  • Frequent diarrhea and cramping
  • Bloody stools
  • Bloating, gas, and nausea whether you exercise or not.

Your doctor can check for any more serious medical conditions as well as prescribe the right drugs to treat symptoms and soothe the pain.

And most importantly, if you have any chest pain or any history in your family with a heart condition either triggered by running or not, seek medical help immediately.

Additional Resource – Here’s your guide to Anterior Tibial Tendonitis 

Lower abdominal pain while running – The Conclusion

There you have it! If you’re experiencing lower abdominal pain while running and would love to know more about the causes (as well as how to deal with them), today’s post should provide you with enough guideposts to get you started on the right path. Stay safe.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep training strong.

David D.

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