PT on the Net Research

Abdominal Spasms with Running


I am an umpire for football (Australian Rules), and with this, you need to do A LOT of running and training. Two nightss a week, we do from 10 to 13 kms a session at both slow and fast paces, and when I get to about the 20 minute mark, my stomach starts to play up and on the left side. I am not sure if it is muscular or resulting from a problem with my digestive tract. It is aggravated when I go slower rather than at speed. when I stop, it is really bad. I don't know what it could be because I have tried different things like eating at different times, eating different foods, etc. The next day, I usually have what feels like a tear or muscle spasm in my internal obliques. I went to the doctor, and he said it could be muscular and to take two aspirin before training, but I don't like taking anything, so I was wondering what suggestions you have.


I have had clients with similar problems in the past. While I can't be definite in my assessment of your condition without actually evaluating you, I can make the following suggestions:

  1. The upper GI tract, including the stomach, receives sympathetic and sensory innervation from the T5-T9 spinal segments. If you have any blockage, hypermobility or orthopedic pathology within or close to these spinal segments, including the related ribs, you could experience the symptoms you describe. It is very common for people to be restricted in thoracic extension and rotation in these motion segments. Such restriction can cause muscular strain in the abdominal wall, intercostals or spinal muscles in that region if repeatedly exposed to the rotational forces common to running. The muscles and joints in this region can, via direct and reflex pathways, excite and produce aberrant physiology in the related organs. The upper GI organs, when inflamed or excessively stressed, can and often do alleviate excess nociceptive (pain) energy into the related motor segments, which can produce muscle spasm, cramping or a stitch sensation. Some likely reasons your upper GI organs may be referring pain into the surrounding muscles and causing pain while running are:

  1. Inflammation in any upper GI organ can cause a competition for blood between the muscles and organs on the same pathways of innervation. Therefore, if for any reason any of your gastric organs was inflamed and you were to run, you could quickly find the muscles in the T5-9 region becoming ischemic and anoxic (lacking blood and oxygen) because the organs reign superior when it comes to allocation of resources such as nutrition and oxygen, leaving the muscles starving at a time of physical stress.

  2. You may have trigger points in and around the area for any number of reasons, including the above. Active trigger points can cause your symptoms. See Travell and Simons, "The Trigger Point Manual," or have a good soft tissue practitioner treat you.

  3. You may be having a diaphragmatic spasm, which is pretty common. This can result from all the reasons above and many more. The important thing is that a diaphragm spasm causes similar results. A trick I learned while taking Feldenkrais courses from Frank Wildman was to roll the eyes up into the head for as many steps as you can while running or jogging. The body thinks you are going to fall so it resets the tension or gain in the surrounding musculature. The diaphragm can spasm causing similar symptoms described by you above.

I hope this helps you.