Mid-run cramp? Use these moves to ease pain, fast

how to cope with midrun cramp

Nothing puts the kibosh on a runner’s high more than a mid-run cramp, stitch or other sudden ache. It can happen any time you’re running, but it tends to be more common on race day, especially if you cling stubbornly to your race plan regardless of your training, the weather, the terrain or your body’s current state, says running coach Mary-Katherine Fleming.

If pain strikes, pull off to the side of the course and try one of these easy fixes. (Attempting to push on through a problem could lead to injury – so don’t do it!) If the issue persists or worsens, stop running and head to the medical tent.

Related: How to deal with cramp when running a marathon 


How to deal with upper back tightness when running

What it feels like: Tightness between the shoulder blades.

Why it happens: This kind of pain is linked to hip misalignment and mainly affects postpartum women: many have not fully rehabbed, causing them to run with an anterior pelvic tilt (front of the pelvis drops and the back of it lifts), which puts pressure on the back and shoulders. Other people may run with shoulders shrugged and head forward, putting strain on their upper back muscles.

The fix: Try big, backward shoulder rolls while running. If the pain doesn’t subside, get off the course and lace your fingers together with your palms facing each other behind your back. Stand as tall as possible, then bend backward gently at the hips until you feel a stretch in your upper back.


How to deal with a side stitch when running

how to cope with cramp when running

What it feels like: An intense stabbing pain under the rib cage.

Why it happens: According to exercise physiologist Dean Somerset, ‘Typically, if someone is cramping, they’re using muscles on that side preferentially over others that would contribute to breathing.’

The fix: Whole standing, take a few deep belly breaths, then press two fingers directly into the affected area. As you apply pressure, continue taking deep breaths and lean your hips towards the unaffected side. Hold this position for several seconds, or until you feel the pain subside.


How to deal with foot cramp when running

What it feels like: Sharp pain in the arch of the foot – it may feel as if the arch is drawing upward.

Why it happens: Cramping in the foot could be caused by an imbalance in electrolytes – chemicals in the body that regulate vital functions such as muscle contractions. When you lose too many of these nutrients through sweat, the chemical impulses in the body can go haywire, leading to muscle cramps and spasms in the foot. Foot cramps can also signal muscular fatigue, as repeatedly flexing and extending the foot over the course of a long race can cause your muscles to work overtime, says Somerset.

The fix: Stand tall and still. Keeping your shoes on, shift your weight onto the cramped foot and press into it as much as possible. If it helps, focus on spreading your toes apart. Lift your opposite foot off the ground to stand on one leg if needed. Apply full body-weight pressure onto the affected foot for up to one minute.


How to deal with calf cramp when running

What is feels like: Mild to severe pain or tightness in the calf muscle.

Why it happens: There are two potential culprits, says Fleming: an electrolyte imbalance or running shoes you are still getting used to – particularly those with a lower drop (difference between heel height and forefoot height).

The fix: If you feel the cramp in your left calf, step your right foot forward and sink into a deep lunge, with your front thigh parallel to the ground and your front heel pressing down. Hold this position for a moment, then step your rear foot forward, walk four or five steps and then repeat a few more times on the same side.