I discuss the common causes and symptoms of stomach cramps, and share helpful tips and remedies for pain caused by stomach cramps.
Let’s be real, stomach cramps are not fun! I’ve had my fair share of annoying tummy troubles and understand just how inconvenient and painful they can be.
So what exactly is the culprit behind those pesky stomach cramps anyway? Let’s discuss the common causes of stomach pain and some helpful strategies to help get rid of cramps in their tracks.
What the Heck Are Stomach Cramps?
Stomach cramps are the tightening of the stomach and intestinal muscles. It’s usually intermittent, but can become chronic in some specific conditions. We all know the feeling, and it never feels good.
There are a lot of common reasons for stomach cramps, so it’s important to speak to your family doctor if it becomes a regular occurrence. Here are some of the most common reasons why you might be experiencing stomach cramps.
You Are Feeling Stressed
The brain interacts with the body through the enteric nervous system (among other systems, of course), which helps regulate our digestion. Stress can disrupt the natural digestive process, causing abdominal pain and cramps. Just another reason why stress totally sucks.
You Need to Up the H2O
When we get dehydrated (especially through sweating, vomiting or diarrhea) we lose a lot of important electrolytes like calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium. These are all key players in proper muscle contractions, which means that skimping out can cause painful spasms.
You Are Feeling Farty
Hey, everyone farts! Nothing to be ashamed of there. But when you have a lot of gas in your gut, your intestinal muscles tend to spasm and cramp in an effort to get rid of it. Not fun times.
If you’ve been diagnosed with an actual digestive issue, like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, stomach cramping may become part of your everyday life. Definitely speak to your doctor about a long-term solution if this sounds like you.
You Are Backed Up
When you’re low on water, fibre, or a combination of both, you might find yourself a wee bit constipated. In this situation, your bowels start to cramp up as they try to deal with the built-up pressure inside. It’s bad news bears all around, really. Make sure you’re staying hydrated and getting your 25-38 grams of fibre each day.
You Ate Too Much, Too Fast
Hey, even eating too much salad too fast can cause some gastric distress. When your body has to work extra hard in a short period of time, you can experience some mild cramping so try to chew your food slowly and enjoy every bite.
You Went a Little Crazy on the Fatty Foods
Dietary fat is harder for our body to digest than carbohydrates and protein. Which means that foods that are higher in fat spend more time in the digestive tract which can cause stomach pain and bloating.
Your Mouth is on Fire
The active component in hot peppers, capsaicin, has a tendency to irritate the stomach lining, perpetuating stomach pains and cramps. If you’re already prone, go easy on the spicy curries and sauces.
You OD’d on Coffee
Caffeine can increase stomach acid and irritate the stomach lining, both of which can cause abdominal pain and even diarrhea if you’re not used to it. Maybe switch to a gentle camomile tea if coffee isn’t your friend.
You Ate a Little Too Many Sweets
While a sweet treat is definitely warranted every now and then, sometimes our stomach may not agree. As sugar is processed through our gut, some of it can get fermented in our lower intestine by bacteria, causing bloating, gas and cramps.
You Got into the Bag of Sugar Free Candies
Sugar free candies may seem like a good idea, especially if you are trying to cut back on sugar while still getting to enjoy the sweetness they provide. However, these candies are typically sweetened with a sugar alcohols like sorbitol which is notorious for causing bloating, cramping and yes, even rampant diarrhea.
You Are Lactose Intolerant and Ate a Tub of B&Js
Considering one in six Canadians are lactose intolerant, abdominal pain can be expected after massive ice cream sundaes. Take a lactase enzyme supplement or pace yourself with smaller amounts of dairy foods.
You Had One Too Many Adult Beverages
Alcohol in excess can damage the stomach lining, resulting in pain, cramps, diarrhea and in extreme cases, serious damage. Always know your limits and stick within it!
How to Stop Stomach Cramps and Pain
Friends, you really don’t have to live in pain with stomach cramps. In addition to avoiding or cut back on some of the aforementioned scenarios, here are a few natural strategies to alleviate stomach pain.
Heat it Up
Heat can help relax your tight spasming tummy by increasing blood circulation, so grab a heating pad or run a warm bath.
Starchy Foods and Grains
Slow burning carbs like starches and whole grains help to coat the lining of the stomach, easing digestion and promoting a soothing effect.
There is some research that ginger may be effective for abdominal discomfort and indigestion because it helps to reduce the time it takes for the stomach to empty. Try steeping some fresh ginger in water for a quick tea, or adding grated fresh ginger to stir-fries and juice.
Peppermint is a natural anti-spasmodic, meaning it helps to sooth our intestinal tract and calm muscle contractions that cause cramps. It also helps stimulate the gallbladder to secrete bile used to digest fats so it’s a good pairing for those fattier holiday meals.
Treat Yourself to a Massage
If it’s just a little gas, you may need to work that out so giving yourself a gentle tummy massage may help ease stomach cramps.
Up the Electrolytes
When we’re experiencing a lot of cramping, it may be a sign that we’re low on electrolytes (like sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium) since these electrolytes are responsible for muscle contractions. Aim to up your intake with foods like bananas, coconut water, milk, tomatoes, citrus, pumpkin seeds and sea salt.
Research suggests that gentle exercise can help calm our gastric tract and reduce bloating, gas and pain. Try to get out every day for a brisk walk or scenic bike ride.
Rest and De-stress
If it’s stress related (and hey, that’s totally common), you might just need to pull back and take a break. Try to get in some extra sleep or just lay down for an hour to see if the stomach cramps disappear.
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Now tell me – what food or scenarios have you found cause stomach cramps for you? What tricks or remedies have you tried that help to stop stomach cramps?
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian (RD), regulated by the Ontario College of Dietitians. She is a mom, YouTuber, Blogger, award winning cookbook author, media coach specializing in food and nutrition influencers, and a frequent contributor to national publications like Healthline and on national broadcast TV shows.