How To Stop Runners’ Cramps

overuse injuries

Suffering a cramp during or after running can be a painful experience.

With the Sutherland2Surf just around the corner we felt it important to address the causes of muscle cramps, how to minimize cramps while running and to act quickly when they do strike.

Why you get cramp & what causes it?

The exact cause of muscle cramps is still unknown, but the theories most commonly recognised with runners are:

• Dehydration & electrolyte depletion
• Poor conditioning & muscles strength
• Muscle fatigue or lack or quality rest
• Overloading training & racing too quickly
• Lack of quality sleep
• High levels of alcohol & caffeine

How to Avoid Cramps While Running

Ways to avoid cramps while running are a high priority on any runner’s list. Cramps don’t just interrupt your exercise, they can also lead to muscle injury. Consider the steps listed below to help avoid cramps and stay on the track:


Hydrate properly before, during and after the run. One of the main reasons for cramping is loss of fluids in the muscle:

  • Drinking water is the best method to rehydrate the body. However, if your workout lasts for more than 45 minutes, sports drinks may be necessary to replace salt and electrolytes – deficiencies in these contribute to cramping.
  • The body takes time to process the fluids that prevent cramping. If your run will be longer than 15km, you’ll want to begin hydrating 2-3 days prior to the event.
  • A good rule of thumb is to take in 150-350ml for every 20min of activity. Additionally, drink 100-200ml before and after a run. The amount will vary depending on your weight. The longer your body stays hydrated, the lower the likelihood of cramping during outings.
Warm-up and stretch

Yes, you’ve heard it before, but a proper warm-up is essential to prepare the body for a run and to avoid an injury. The primary problem muscles that cramp are the calves, hamstrings and quads, so try and incorporate some stretching of these areas in your warm-up.

Calf stretch

Step forward with one leg. With your other leg’s foot flat on the ground, slowly transfer your weight onto your front leg until you feel the stretch in your cramping calf. Hold for 20 seconds. Release and repeat.

Hamstring stretch

Extend one leg out in front of you with only the heel touching the ground. Squat down slightly and point the toes of your cramping leg up. Hold for 20 seconds.

Quad stretch

Grab the foot of one leg and pull it back and up toward your buttocks until you feel a stretch in your quad. Keep your other leg straight and your thighs together. Hold for 20 seconds. Release and repeat.

NOTE: Never stretch to point of pain. If it hurts, that’s your body telling you to stop.

Run during times of lower heat and humidity.

The hotter the temperature, the quicker your body will lose fluid, thus leading to cramping.

Running shoes

Change the type or brand of running shoe you wear. Shoes that are ill fitting will put undue stress on your muscles and tendons. This stress increases the likelihood of cramping during a run.


Scrutinize your diet for foods that help and hinder the avoidance of cramps during a run:

  • Caffeinated beverages will dehydrate your muscles.
  • Bananas contain potassium that can help prevent cramping.
  • Meals high in protein and/or fat are especially problematic. Don’t consume them within 4-5 hours before a run.
  • For longer runs, you’ll want to eat plenty of carbohydrates the night before.
  • And we all know the importance of nutrition to the body. Remember “Eat Well, Drink Well, Play Well”.
Running pace

Keep your pace consistent during the longer runs to avoid cramping. The pace should be even and one that matches your current fitness level.

How to Treat Cramps While Running

If you get a side or stomach cramp while running, slow down to a walk and take slow, deep breathes. Putting hands on your heads while deep breathing can also help reduce cramping pains.

When a muscle cramp strikes, stop exercising, rest, stretch the cramped muscle gently and hydrate if able — preferably with a sports drink that can restore your electrolyte balance.

Begin running again once cramp symptoms settle.

Listen to your body

Your body will let you know if something is wrong. Pushing through an injury can often lead to a worse outcome and more time off training. Have niggles and injuries assessed and managed by our physiotherapists.

For more information regarding the management of cramps or to have an injury assessed contact one of the physiotherapists at Jubilee Sports Physiotherapy.

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Hi, would you like to chat with one of our physios?

Please provide your contact details and one of our experienced physiotherapists will give you a free, no obligation call to assist you with your query.