Abdominal cramps: what are the causes and how to treat them?

Abdominal cramps: what are the causes and how to treat them?

rony 23.08.2019

There are several hypotheses on the possible causes of abdominal cramps. What we know with certainty is that it is a sharp pain, which occurs below the side, in the upper part of the abdomen, and near the diaphragm. Another empirical finding is that it occurs in conjunction with intense physical effort, such as running suddenly or without warming up.

But how does it manifest itself, what to do in that case and how to prevent it? Is there a particular sport that favors abdominal cramps? It depends on what you drink or eats before physical activity? Are there more people than others who suffer from it? All these questions could be answered in the points we are about to address.

Possible causes of abdominal cramps

Until recently it was thought that abdominal pain was caused by a build-up of gas. This hypothesis was then discarded in favor of other more consistent hypotheses. However, none of them has shown sufficient evidence to give a satisfactory answer to those suffering from this pain during exercise.

The clinical name of abdominal cramps is “transient abdominal pain” and is directly associated with physical activity. The peculiarity for which it is associated with sport is that it appears to appear during the exercises and disappear a few seconds after the conclusion of the training.

There are at least three possible explanations for abdominal cramps. The first and most reliable is that it is a problem associated with previously ingested meals or drinks and the sport we do. However, not all meals or drinks tend to trigger this problem.

The second possible cause that would explain abdominal cramps refers to the muscular tension that some sportsmen might have by nature. Specifically, it may be that the muscles that give stability to the spine are too stiff or hypertonic. Therefore, this could be the cause of throbbing pain below the diaphragm.

The third hypothesis would explain the presence of abdominal cramps with respiratory problems. Acute pain, therefore, could be caused – according to this hypothesis – by a lack of oxygen to the muscle, caused in turn by the lack of coordination between the diaphragm and the respiratory movement.

Influence on other organs

In line with this last hypothesis (that on the lack of oxygen), another possible explanation is that the ligaments of the diaphragm would seem to extend to the surrounding organs, such as the liver. This condition would be caused – as in the third hypothesis – by a lack of coordination in breathing. This tension seems to increase during the exercises, in case of the ingestion of “heavy” foods.

In reality, the most accredited hypothesis on the presence of abdominal cramps is the one that claims to be a multifunctional phenomenon; this means that it can occur for some or other reasons, separately.

However, yes: sports in which the problem occurs most often can be monitored. For example, it would seem that swimming is the sporting discipline with the greatest number of people complaining of these intense pains. Next, in order, we find: running, horse riding, aerobics, basketball, cycling.

Are some people more prone to abdominal cramps?

Although there are no specific causes, some people more likely to suffer from this disorder have been monitored. For example, a person with kyphosis will have a spine tilted forward and this will cause tension in the back; consequently, he will experience pains especially in the cervical muscles.

On the other hand, cramps are much more frequent in children and young adults than after 30 years of age. However, the disorder does not distinguish sex, as it occurs equally in both men and women. Yet the more the subject in question is trained, the less likely he is to suffer from this pain.

How to prevent abdominal cramps?

The habit of avoiding meals that inflame the stomach and intestines is a good starting point to prevent the problem. Furthermore, it is important to train the lungs and diaphragm, maintaining a constant breathing rhythm as long as possible.

Other precautions to keep in mind and that serve to do sports responsibly are:

  • Go for a run, swim or do aerobics with the lightest stomach possible.

  • Drink water in small sips during training.
  • Choose the right footwear, suitable for the type of physical activity we’re going to do.

  • Contact a physiotherapist in case of kyphosis.
  • Warm-up the muscles before training.

What to do if the pain appears?

First, exercise should not be interrupted abruptly. The best thing to do is to put pressure on the pain area and flex the torso very slowly; as soon as the pain begins to fade, a lateral movement must be made, lengthening the cost at the point where the pain occurred. After that, you can resume doing the exercise you were doing.

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