How To Prevent Chafing While Running

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Chafing is one of the worst problems a runner will encounter… Not because it’s a huge injury but because of how frustrating it is that such a small thing can cause so much pain!

But it can become more than just a frustration if it’s not dealt with early on. Your running can suffer once that painful rash appears. It’s tough to keep your mind on your run when all you can think about is that burning pain!

How to prevent chafing while running? Good news—it’s not as difficult as you might think.

Here’s our advice for runners of all levels.

What Is Chafing?

Chafing is basically another word for friction. When you’re moving, your skin might end up rubbing against your clothing, your shoe, or your skin.

When you’re running for an extended period of time and this friction is constant, it can quickly lead to skin irritation as the surface of the skin is rubbed raw.

It’s sometimes known as runner’s rash because it creates raw, red, stinging sections of damaged, sensitive skin on the body. Chafing is actually made worse when you sweat, because as your sweat evaporates, it leaves behind tiny salt crystals, which add a bit of roughness that actually increases friction.

The Most Common Areas Prone to Chafing in Runners

Chafing can technically happen anywhere, but some areas are more prone than others. You need to pay extra attention to these spots when it comes to preventing chafing.

Nipples

This is the most annoying, uncomfortable, and, unfortunately, common type of chafing for men. It can happen to ladies too, but it’s less common thanks to tighter-fitting sports bras.

For men, nipple chafing is common because their shirt tends to rub lightly across their chest as they run. In the beginning, or on shorter runs, it might not even be noticeable. But once your nipples are chafed, you definitely know it.

Inner Thighs

Thigh chafing is also very common. This area of your body is prone to rubbing against each other or against your clothing as you move.

This happens more often in runners who are actively trying to lose weight.

Armpits

If you favor sleeveless shirts, armpit chafing is a real possibility. It can happen whether you’re wearing a loose shirt or a tighter one and is especially common in longer races.

You can’t run with good form without moving your arms. As your arms move back and forth, the inner crease of your armpit is likely to rub lightly against the seam of the shirt. Friction leads to irritated skin, which means runner’s rash.

Groin

Unfortunately, the groin is another area where chafing tends to pop up. In some cases, this can be due to doubling-up on layers—for example, wearing underwear underneath running tights.

While it might seem natural to wear underwear underneath tights or under a pair of shorts with a built-in brief, in some cases, having that extra layer is a recipe for friction.

Heel

Heel chafing is also common. If your shoes don’t fit right, or if you haven’t snugged up your laces, heel slip is a possibility.

The more you run, the more that heel slips slightly in and out of the shoe. In every step, the back of the heel is actively rubbing against the material of your shoe, which is a one-way street to developing a blister.

Factors That Contribute to Chafing

Now that we know the common areas where chafing occurs, let’s look at the external factors that can make chafing worse.

Hot Weather

The hotter it is, the more you’re likely to chafe. This is because sweating makes friction more likely, and when sweat evaporates off the skin, it leaves behind little salt crystals which can scratch the skin when rubbed. The same is true in humid weather.

Your Apparel

Loose clothing can get caught in crevices and cause friction, especially if it gets soaked by sweat. On the other hand, you don’t want to wear anything too tight—especially things like sports bras and underwear—because that can leave welts and your skin.

It’s also a good idea to choose seamless clothing without tags. This removes potential friction-causers. Or, you can carefully remove tags yourself.

You should also consider the material your apparel is made of. Cotton is a no-no, because it holds onto moisture and makes friction worse. Choose synthetic fabric, moisture-wicking materials, or wool.

As for your shoes, they should fit you in length and width, with some space to accommodate swelling later in the day. You should be able to lace them effectively to eliminate heel slip, but without the laces cutting into your skin.

Body Weight

Runners who have excess body weight are more prone to chafing. This is because skin is more likely to rub against itself as you move.

Skin Sensitivity

The natural sensitivity of your skin will affect how easily or how severely you chafe. Those with more sensitive skin are likely to struggle with worse chafing than those who don’t have such easily irritated skin.

How to Prevent Chafing While Running

Preventing chafing requires some thought, but it can be done. You need to do it in three stages, though—before your run, during your run, and after your run. Take the correct actions at these three stages, and chafing may be a thing of the past.

Pre-Run Preparation

Preparation can help you beat chafing from the start. Here’s how to set yourself up for a chafe-free run.

Choose the Right Clothing

Opt for skin-tight clothing as opposed to loose clothing. Tighter apparel moves with you, and doesn’t move against your skin. Wearing running tights or compression shorts instead of sweatpants or loose shorts can make a difference.

The same goes for shirts, although on the flip side, make sure you aren’t wearing a sports bra that’s too tight and cuts into your skin. Go for apparel that’s tagless and seamless if possible.

Moisture-wicking fabrics are a winner, drawing sweat away from your skin faster. Wool is an excellent option, as it has temperature-regulating properties along with being antibacterial

Identify Problem Areas

Take note of if there are areas in which you’re more prone to chafing. For men, the nipples are probably the most worrisome area. But it can be quite a personal thing, depending on your running form and your weight.

Stock Up On Anti-Chafing Products

You can’t adequately prepare to beat chafing without stocking up on anti-chafe products. Depending on your problem areas and comfort level, you may opt for something like Body Glide or similar anti-chafing sticks, petroleum jelly, or adhesive patches.

Keep Running Accessories Close to Your Body

If you use a hydration belt, a running armband, or any other kind of running accessory, they can also become chafing hazards. It’s important to make sure they’re strapped tightly enough that they can’t bounce but not so tight that they cut off circulation or cause pain.

You may apply petroleum jelly to the area of skin against which they sit, to reduce the chance of friction. If you’re having trouble with one particular accessory, you may need to reevaluate it and find another way to carry your items.

On-the-Run Chafing Strategies

With proper preparation, you can be ready to tackle chafing should it happen mid-run. Here’s how.

Stay Hydrated

Being hydrated means your skin is in the best position to protect itself and also to heal should it be minorly chafed. Dehydration can also lead to dry skin, which is prone to irritation much more quickly than well-hydrated skin.

Carry Small Tubes of Lubricant

If you are wearing a running belt or even if you just have a pocket, you might want to consider carrying a small tube of lubricant on your run. That way, if you do feel chafing anywhere or if your original Body Glide has rubbed off, you can apply some lubricant to ease the friction.

Use Blister Patches for Emergencies

Keep a few blister bandages in your running belt or in your pocket. When you start to feel chafing, you can quickly apply one to prevent further rubbing, which may prevent you from actually developing a nasty wound. We recommend Dr. Frederick’s Original Better Blister Bandages or Compeed Advanced Blister Care.

Post-Run Care

What you do after your run can also make a difference to how quickly your wounds heal. Take these steps to make sure you get ahead of the healing process.

Luke-Warm Shower

A lukewarm shower will gently soothe the skin, remove any dirt or debris, and encourage good circulation, which will immediately kickstart healing of any sore spots.

Wear Loose and Breathable Clothing

After your run, choose light, loose, breathable clothing. Because you won’t be moving at a speed, like when you’re running, the likelihood of loose clothing chafing is very low.

Loose clothing allows air to flow in and dry out moist skin, which is essential for preventing infections.

Drink Plenty of Water

Staying hydrated will help to support your skin’s healing process. It also aids in circulation, which means nutrients and oxygen will flow more easily to the site of the chafing for healing.

Treating Chafing if It Does Occur

If chafing happens to you, start treating it as soon as possible. This will give you the best chance of recovering quickly and getting back to running!

Gently Clean the Chafed Area

It’s important not to jump into a hot shower, as tempting as it may be. Hot water is likely to scald the raw, sensitive skin, possibly causing further damage and definitely causing pain.

Use lukewarm water and a mild antibacterial soap to cleanse the area. Rub it gently with your fingers and avoid using a rough washcloth, as it may damage the skin further.

Pat Dry and Allow Air Exposure

Once the chafed skin is clean, don’t rub it dry. Instead, pat it gently with a clean, dry towel and allow it to air dry. It’s essential to make sure it’s properly dry before you apply any kind of ointment, because moisture can increase the risk of infection.

Apply an Antibiotic Ointment

Antiseptic ointments are vital for healing and preventing infection. They can also help to soothe warm, raw skin with their coolness and moisture. You should be able to find an over-the-counter antiseptic ointment that will work well, or you can get a prescription from your doctor.

Make sure to follow the instructions for application. Some will require that you rub the cream in, others won’t. Some may also prefer that you don’t cover the wound for a certain period of time after applying the antibacterial ointment.

Cover the Area With a Bandage

If you want to, you can cover the chafed skin with a light sterile bandage. We recommend NOT using a bandaid, because it’s not breathable and can damage the skin all over again when you take it off.

A clean bandage can help to keep the wound clean and prevent you from scratching it. Don’t wrap it too tightly, and make sure to change it every day so the bandage doesn’t become moist and soiled.

Give It Time to Heal

Raw skin takes time to heal properly. It might look like a small wound, but it needs ample time to get better. Depending on the severity, it may take anything from a few days to a few weeks to heal.

Be patient. Getting back into running before your chafing has healed puts you at risk of rubbing it raw all over again.

When to See a Doctor

Chafing is usually a consequence of what we wear. However, in some cases, it might be a sign of something that needs medical attention. Here’s how to tell if you need to see a medical professional about your runner’s rash.

  • Your symptoms get worse: If there’s excessive pain, redness, swelling, or if the rash is spreading, there could be something underlying that’s preventing it from healing.
  • You show signs of infection: If the skin is warm, tender, gets more and more red, if pus develops, or if you begin to develop a fever, there may be an infection that requires medication to heal.
  • Deep wounds or oozing: If your chafing is bad enough to leave open wounds, not just a rash, it’s best to see a doctor. Oozing wounds should also be seen to by a medical professional as they’re prone to infection.
  • Unrelated symptoms: If your chafing comes with symptoms like unusual fatigue, joint pain, or excessive sweating, get it checked out.
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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.