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April 15, 2014

Sports: Leg cramps and Side Stitches

When practising a sport, such as running or swimming, it is not unusual to develop a muscle cramp or side stitch. Here is what you can do.

Cramps in the lower limbs

Cramps in the legs, calves or feet are relatively common during exercise. They involve a painful, involuntary and short-lived contraction of one or more muscles, either at rest or during exertion. 

The exact cause of cramps remains a mystery. Several factors may come into play: insufficient amount of oxygen to the muscles, exhaustion, dehydration, cold, pregnancy, blood disorders (especially magnesium or potassium deficiency), etc.

Prevention and treatment of cramps

To prevent or relieve a cramp caused by exercise:

  • Drink enough water (small quantities before, during and after the activity).
  • Do a proper warm-up.
  • Take a break if you have a cramp, press on the painful muscle and gently stretch it.
  • Progress gradually in a sport (with too much exertion, your muscles “protect themselves” by contracting).  

Side stitches

A stitch is a sharp, yet inconsequential pain in the side, under the lower edge of the ribcage.

Prevention and treatment

Here are ways to prevent side stitches:

  • Exercise on a relatively empty stomach (wait 3 hours after a meal).
  • Do a proper warm-up.
  • Start gradually.
  • Run on flat terrain.
  • Avoid inhaling and exhaling with the same leg out every time.

To eliminate a stitch:

  • Bend forward while pressing down on the painful side.
  • Breathe deeply.
  • Change your running pace or breathing pattern to exhale on alternating legs.
  • Do lateral stretches.
  • Take a short break.  

A word of warning

If you get frequent, debilitating cramps that last a long time or affect an unusual part of the body, consult a doctor as soon as possible; this may be the symptom of an underlying medical condition. The same goes for any chest pain that is not a side stitch, as it could indicate a serious heart problem. 

Pharmacy services

If you have questions on sports-related pain, talk to your pharmacist. He’s there to help! 

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The Website deals with health-related topics. The information presented has been validated by experts and is accurate at the time of posting. In no way does it replace the opinion of a health care professional. Uniprix Inc. and its affiliated pharmacists accept no liability whatsoever in connection with the information provided on this Website.