Q: Why am I Getting Stomach Cramps? (problem solved)

Dear Readers of ALF,

I’ve been having a problem, on and off, throughout the past 12 years of my running career, and its pissing me off so I want to submit to the running community for some insight.

Since I was 17, I’ve been getting stomach cramps, always in the same spot (slightly above my belly button and a little to the right).  Usually they come on during long tempos or VO2 max workouts.  It shortens and shortens and shortens my stride and makes it impossible to breathe properly.  When I push through it, (which I usually try to do) eventually I’m hunched over running like a 92 year old, and I end up sore for days.  In extreme cases, I feel it shoot through to my back and then down under the iliac crest.  If I stop and stretch it out, most of the time I can make it go away as quickly as it came.  Sometimes it returns later, but not always.

I’ve had years where its very infrequent, and periods of time where it happens A LOT.  Lately, I can get sore in the area 15-30 minutes after a meal, without even working out.

So there’s my problem, peeps!  I have great faith in the collective wisdom of the running community.  Got an inkling of what road I should start sniffing down?  Researching online makes me think I have every disease known to man, so I’d rather ask people based on their experiences.  What you got for me?



The most recent diagnosis is posted at the top!  Looks like the problem is solved!

8/3/11 diagnosis: Stomach ulcer with possible visceral and muscular fascia disturbances resulting from training through it for a long time.

I had an ultrasound of the abdomen that showed normal organs and thankfully no gall stones or kidney stones.  I had less than a week before the next race, so there was no time for more advanced scans, so Dr. Lorenzo at Pure Sports Medicine in London suggested we treat it as an ulcer and if it improved within two days, we’d know it was the right diagnosis.  Sure enough, with some acid suppressants and an altered diet (no alcohol, coffee, black tea, or spicy foods) I felt like a new woman!

Concurrently, I saw Alex Fugalo twice, an osteopath in London at Beyond Health, for body work.  He is a visceral therapist and he did a lot of work releasing my diaphragm and intercostal muscles between the ribs.  He also helped free up my liver from the ribs, which was sticking a bit.

Our team massage therapist, Jon Murray, took over from there to make sure I was nice and loose before my London race, and I had a pain free race!

The final thing to do is to get a blood test to see if my ulcer is caused by a bacteria that causes recurring ulcers (responsible for 70-90% of ulcers).  People that have the bacteria can solve the problem by taking an antibiotic.

I miss coffee so bad it hurts, but not as much as an ulcer does!


Older Update from 7/23/11: The problem is very near being solved, thanks to all the awesome help provided on here.  I can’t thank you guys enough!

I went to a doctor in France and we couldn’t communicate at all due to the language barrier, so he laid me down on the exam table, tapped my stomach like a drum and said “GAS!” and sent me on my way.  At least the doctors in France only cost $30…one less dinner out on the town, no harm done.  Luckily there is a lab that is totally weird that you can just walk into and order whatever tests you want done.  I’ve ruled out a few things that were brought up:

  • stomach infection or other infection that could be seen on a blood test
  • food allergies to wheat and dairy (haven’t tested for other food allergies, but those were the most likely since I’ve been consuming French baguettes, croissants and fromage like its going out of style)
  • Stress response: my stress hormones are in the normal range.  Also, once the cramps started happening on easy conversational fun runs and when I was just hanging out with friends in the peaceful mountains of FRANCE, I knew stress only played a minimal role if any.
  • Altitude (never had problems at altitude before and this is only 6000 feet.  I do altitude quite often).
  • General Wussiness (thanks buddy for the personal email on that one).
  • Being a chick (I always appreciate some good gender humor, but no).

Thoughts for the Final Investigation:

That leaves a few ideas that were recurring themes from readers that I’m still looking into:

  • gallbladder dysfunction (either gallstones or general dysfunction).  This requires a visit to an English speaking doctor, an ultra sound, or a nuclear medicine test if its not gallstones.  Or as one friend put it, I could just swallow a cup of fat and see what happens, since the gallbladder is active with fatty foods.  Could do…
  • muscular or fascia tightness around the diaphragm, ribs/inter-costal muslces, shoulder/back/chest/psoas/obliques/hip flexors or anything else that is in the general area that could be pulling funny on my stomach.  This requires some expert body work, and I’m already seeing great results from this.  I’m seeing a visceral therapist after Stockholm who will be checking the fascia around my organs.  Kinda freaked out about what that will feel like!
This is turning out to be the most useful discussion of cramping for runners on the web, so thank you all for writing in!  That is what I had in mind from the beginning when I started this website: there are many many people with valuable experience to contribute that can be just as, or more helpful than what I have to say about it.  You don’t have to be a USA Champion to have an opinion that means something.  When I answer a question from a reader, I really only envision myself starting the conversation.
The response to this blog not only helped me with my problem, it has helped other people wit their cramps, and has made my week, so thank you!
More to come,