Can You Get Menstrual Cramps After Exercise Like Running?

Reviewed on 1/22/2021

What are menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps are a type of abdominal pain women get when they have their period. Menstrual cramps may occur after running due to dehydration, gastrointestinal problems, hypothyroidism and pregnancy.
Menstrual cramps are a type of abdominal pain women get when they have their period. Menstrual cramps may occur after running due to dehydration, gastrointestinal problems, hypothyroidism and pregnancy.

For many women, severe menstrual cramps can cause significant disruptions to everyday life. Menstrual cramps occur when hormones and other factors trigger uterine cramps or inflammation. Over-the-counter pain medication, heat pads, and other home remedies are often used to manage the pain. It’s also been recommended to try light to moderate exercise to help manage the pain of severe menstrual cramps.

However, for some women, exercise can worsen the symptoms. They may experience menstrual cramps after running or other exercises — even outside of their menstrual period.

As with any type of treatment, it’s important to consult with your doctor about exercise as a part of pain management. Some research shows that aerobic activity and even light exercise might not be the best course of action for all women combatting cramps.

Menstrual cramps caused by running and other exercises may be a sign or symptom of other underlying issues and should be discussed with your doctor.

Symptoms of menstrual cramps after running

Even when you’re not on your period, your exercise habits can have a variety of effects on your menstrual cycle. Symptoms that occur after exercise might include:

Spotting

Consistent exercise can impact your hormone levels. This can disrupt your body’s monthly cycle. When this happens, the lining of your uterus may shed at random times. Random shedding appears as spotting, or breakthrough bleeding, throughout the month.

Spotting may be a bright red or dark red color, but the flow is typically much lighter than your average period. It may occur during or right after intense exercise or running. This can be a symptom of underlying issues in the uterus or cervix

Missed period

Consistent strenuous exercise — while beneficial for many aspects of your mental and physical health — can put strain on your body as well. You may experience one or more missed periods, especially if you’ve lost a significant amount of weight or have increased the intensity and frequency of your workouts.

Missed periods can occur as a result of hormonal imbalance caused by exercise and changes in your body. 

Changes in flow

Changes in your exercise routine can bring about changes in your menstrual flow — but it’s not necessarily cause for worry. The hormonal adjustments caused by moderate to intense exercise can lead to a lighter period. This could eventually escalate to missed periods, though. 

Weight loss may also cause changes in your flow. Fat can increase the level of certain hormones in the body. Gaining or losing it dramatically impacts hormone levels in many women.

Menstrual cramps with your period

Though exercise can alleviate menstrual cramps in some women, it can have no effect or aggravate symptoms in others.

Menstrual cramps without your period

In some women, exercise can trigger the onset of noticeable to severe cramping. This can be a sign of underlying problems, such as gastrointestinal issues, hypothyroidism, and reproductive issues. See a doctor if you experience sudden or long-term cramps caused by exercise.

Causes of menstrual cramps after running

There are several potential causes of menstrual cramps after running, including:

Dehydration

Muscle cramping, including uterine or menstrual cramping, can occur because of dehydration or lack of electrolytes.

Gastrointestinal issues

Gastrointestinal issues can be aggravated by strenuous exercise. Issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may cause menstrual cramps or pain that feels similar to menstrual cramps. 

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism impacts hormone levels and can have a significant effect on your menstrual cycle. It can cause menstrual cramping that’s aggravated by exercise or other physical activities.

Pregnancy

Menstrual-like cramps can be common in the early weeks of pregnancy. They may occur randomly or during exercise. If you’ve missed a period or are experiencing other symptoms of pregnancy, consider taking a pregnancy test or consulting with your doctor. 

Diagnosing menstrual cramps after running

If you’re experiencing menstrual or menstrual-like cramps from exercise, your doctor will likely start with a physical exam. They may also evaluate any underlying causes with a:

Treatments for menstrual cramps after running

If you have sudden or long-term pelvic pain after running or other exercises, your treatment options may include:

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References
SOURCES:

British Journal of General Practice: "The role of exercise in the treatment of menstrual disorders: the evidence."

Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations: "Pelvic Pain."

Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Association between Body Weight Changes and Menstrual Irregularity: The Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2010 to 2012."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Dysfunctional Uterine Bleeding."

Journal of Education and Health Promotion: "The Effect of aerobic exercise on primary dysmenorrhea: A clinical trial study."

Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology: "Thyroid hormones and menstrual cycle function in a longitudinal cohort of premenopausal women."

Postgraduate Medical Journal: "Exercise and hormonal secretion."

Sports Medicine: "Muscle Cramping During Exercise: Causes, Solutions, and Questions Remaining."

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