Is It Normal to Experience Period-Like Cramps When Running? We Asked a Physical Therapist

cramps when running hero

Flashback to 2020, and I was twiddling my thumbs cooped up at my family’s home with absolutely nowhere to go and nothing to do. After all, a pandemic was ensuing. While some decided to make creative paradoxical renditions of Les Misérables and others absorbed the Boomer birdwatching pastime, I, on the other hand, thought it would be a brilliant idea to become a running machine—a considerable feat for someone who faked a two-week foot injury to take a break from rowing practice.

Much to my surprise, hitting that mile mark in under nine minutes was not easy after remaining sedentary for quite some time. But try I did. However, as I began to push myself out of my comfort zone every day, I noticed a reoccurring feeling each time I pounded the pavement. Pain. And not just any kind of pain, but crippling, period-like cramping pain.

At first, I chalked it up to one of two things: either a) Yes, I’m starting my period, or b) I’m severely out of shape. But after I ruled out those potential causes (those daily free weight workouts and HIIT circuits had to improve my respiratory endurance, right?), I began to wonder if anyone else dealt with the same issues when they laced up their running shoes. To Instagram polls I went!

And much to my surprise, when I asked the women from my 1,200 followers if they experience period-like cramping during runs, 84 percent answered yes while 16 percent answered no. While not a proper and professional censor, with such a high percentage of woman in agreement, I set out to find answers. Here, Dr. Ashley Rawlins, PT, DPT of Origin specializing in the treatment of pelvic floor muscle dysfunctions including pelvic pain, weighs in on what might be happening inside your body.

First things first, Dr. Rawlins’s number one advice is to notify your primary care doctor before Google and WebMD lead you into a downwards spiral of health anxiety. “For any new and/or persistent abdominal pain—especially if it’s extreme—that pops up during running, it’s always best to check in with your healthcare provider,” Rawlins suggests. “There can be various underlying medical conditions that could be leading to your symptoms.” If medical issues like hormone imbalances, PCOS, IBS and endometriosis are ruled out, Rawlins tells us there could be a few offenders causing uncomfortable menstrual-like cramping on your jog.

1. Persistent muscle overuse

The cause of your cramping may very well be your training regime. Rawlins notes, “When there are imbalances and weakness in the body, your muscles may unknowingly respond by overworking themselves.” Muscular imbalances can cause serious issues and effect everything from your training to everyday life. Improper form, poor posture, inflexibility, difficulties with balance or abnormal pain for no apparent reason may be signs that you’re dealing with muscular imbalances, according to The Healthy.

“Running asks a lot from your core,” reminds Rawlins. “Your abs or even your pelvic floor muscles may compensate by overworking themselves into a cramp, and it can feel similar to what your body commonly recognizes as menstrual cramps.” The best way to avoid this unpleasant sensation? Restore balance in the muscle strength and endurance that’s required for running. This means targeting exercises for your lower back, core, pelvic floor, hip and leg muscles. Rawlins also emphasizes checking in on your running form and the age of your shoes. Hot tip we heard loud and clear: Buy new shoes.

2. Trigger points

Much like the muscle cramping culprit, “trigger points,” which Rawlins defines as irritable knots of muscle, “and restrictions in the fascia [a fibrous tissue that surrounds and protects the muscle] can develop in the abdominal and pelvic musculature.”

To put in layman’s terms, your body’s muscular system may have a buildup of pesky knots that trigger with inflammation when worked. When asked how trigger points form, Rawlins revealed overactive muscles, especially those in the abdominal and pelvic areas, can send pain to your pelvic region. “Running may irritate these restrictions and make it feel like the pain is coming from the lower abdominal or uterine area.” Listen to your body and rest when needed.

3. Gastrointestinal issues

You know the saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, there’s truth to it. “When not related to a more serious underlying medical condition, sometimes the fuel and hydration we take in during or before a run can irritate the GI system and cause intestinal cramping,” says Rawlins. Not only can running speed up your, erm, digestion (forget that morning coffee), but the food and drink consumed before a run might not be the right energy and fuel convertor. Not to mention a lack of food or dehydration can affect the way your body responds to intense physical activity.

Looking back on my short-lived running escapades, I fail to find one root cause that led me to retire my running shoes. I probably desperately needed a new pair to fix my knee and toe alignment and I most likely should have forgone stuffing my face with a bag of Hot Cheetos hours before. Plus, jumping into a sub-nine-minute mile every day undoubtably placed an immense amount of stress on my body. Needless to say, running away from these problems—pun intended—was never an option.

Is It OK to Run Every Day? Here’s What You Need to Know Before Lacing Up

IMG 0045 e1692204525583

Associate Fashion Commerce Editor

Stephanie is a natural savant in the fashion, beauty, and dating & relationships beats. She graduated with a bachelor of arts at the University of San Diego, where she majored...