Cramps, stitches are part of an athlete's challenges

Cramps, stitches are part of an athlete's challenges
Participants passing the Singapore Flyer during the Straits Time (ST) Run At The Hub 2014.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Cramps may not sound like a big deal, but studies have shown that they affect one in two runners. I too have suffered from cramps numerous times while running.

The exact cause of muscle cramps is unclear, but it is often attributed to dehydration, or the lack of certain electrolytes such as sodium.

I would also add premature fatigue of muscles to the list. This happens when we overestimate our body's threshold and push excessively hard during training or competition.

That is why cramps often occur at the point of maximum intensity or during extreme fatigue in the latter stages of a marathon.

Researchers found that triathletes suffer from cramps when they push themselves at a higher intensity than their bodies are used to.

If you often suffer from cramps, the best bet would be to start the race more conservatively and slowly build up your pace, in order to avoid over-taxing your muscles.

Stitches are another common ailment affecting runners, with a sharp pain that strikes just below the ribs.

I have not been spared from this problem either.

As with cramps, it is still unclear what exactly causes a stitch.

Some suggest that it may be due to a spasm of the diaphragm, while others say it is due to the stress on the structures that keep our intestines and organs in place when we run.

A study by the University of Newcastle in Australia found that 60 per cent of 965 athletes surveyed thought stitches were caused by eating or drinking just before exercise - in particular, consuming fruits, juices, dairy products and food high in fat and sugar.

Other factors include exercising in cold conditions and a lack of warm-up.

In any case, despite the inconclusive evidence on cause and prevention, I recommend the following preventive measures.

First, make sure there is sufficient time between your pre-run snack and training. Personally, I have a snack bar 45 minutes before a training run.

Second, warm up. This can be a brisk walk, or an easy jog for 5-10 minutes.

Finally, regulate your breathing. Breathe once every 3-4 steps during an easy run, and once every 1-2 steps during a fast run.

If the stitch still strikes, do not panic. Try this remedy which works for me occasionally: Exhale when the foot on the opposite side of the stitch hits the ground.

For instance, if your stitch is on the left side, breathe out when your right foot hits the ground.

If the pain still persists, stop running and rest until it subsides. As the saying goes, to rest is to walk further.

Have any questions for Mok?

E-mail them to with the subject "Run with Mok" and he will try to answer as many as he can in his weekly column.

This article was first published on August 22, 2015.
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