How To Stop Runners Itch

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Itches happen, but they tend to happen more often to runners. Runner’s itch is a real thing, and it’s not just that “change of season” scratchiness. This itch is deep and incessant and can really ruin a good run!

Whether you’re an experienced runner or a newbie, it can strike at any time and be difficult to stop.

In this article, we’ll cover how to prevent runner’s itch from happening and learn how to treat it if it does.

Stop Runners Itch

What Is Runner’s Itch?

Runner’s itch—also called exercise-induced urticaria—is exactly as it sounds. It’s a deep itching, burning, or prickling sensation that strikes in the middle of a run.

It’s most common on the legs and around the waist, but it can happen in other places, too, especially where friction occurs. In some cases, you might also experience a rash or hives.

Why Do Your Legs Itch When You Run?

Itching often happens from your body’s reaction to an external stimulus. In the case of runner’s itch, it can be a response to external or internal stimuli… Or sometimes, more than one stimulus at a time.

Here are some of the most common reasons behind runner’s itch. Figuring out why it’s happening to you is the first step to stopping it!

Increased Blood Flow and Capillary Expansion

When you go for a run, your capillaries and veins expand to allow for better blood flow so more oxygen can get to the muscles.

This happens every time you run, but your body might not be used to it if you’re a new runner. As more blood flows through the tissues, it stimulates the nerve endings in the area, which can result in a strange, itching sensation.

It’s usually not hard to tell if this is the reason behind your itching because you’ll be a new runner or getting back into it after time off. The good news is that it’s usually temporary and will go away when your body adjusts!

Heat and Sweat: The Fiery Itch Factor

Sweat can trigger itching, especially if you have sensitive skin. In hot weather, you’re more likely to experience this type of itch, especially when combined with wet clothes and chafing!

And if you scratch an itch while you’re sweating, sweat can irritate the scratched skin, turning into an unbearable itching cycle.

Sensitive Skin’s Role in Runner’s Itch

Sweat isn’t the only thing that can trigger sensitive skin to itch. Your clothing material, laundry detergent, soap, or fabric softener can mix with sweat during a run, triggering itching and a rash.

Dry Skin Dilemma: Moisture Matters

Dry skin is another potential cause behind runner’s itch. As you might imagine, this is more of a problem in cold weather and can be exacerbated when you run in windy weather.

When your skin is dry, your clothing can also work against you. What would’ve been a normal, comfortable shirt or pair of tights before now becomes a scratchy material that can easily cause an itch, burn, or sting.

Allergic Reactions on the Run

Itching or hives is a common allergic reaction, so there’s a chance that allergies could be behind your itching.

Some common allergies include pollen, dust, and smoke. If you encounter any of those while running, your body could begin to produce histamine, a chemical that mobilizes the immune system against these allergens.

In some cases, your body can overreact and release too much of it—this is when we need an antihistamine to deal with allergy symptoms. This leads to dilation of the blood vessels, and your body may create inflammation to attack the threat.

This can mess with nerve endings in the area, leading to that itching feeling.

It’s interesting to note that while sometimes a legitimate allergy can trigger this on a run, in some cases, exercise itself can be the trigger. Your body releases histamine in the muscles while exercising as a way of combating fatigue.

Sometimes, just like with “real” allergies, your body goes a bit overboard and reacts badly to its own chemicals, leading to that itching sensation.

The Disney Rash: Understanding Exercise-Induced Vasculitis

The Disney rash—also called golfer’s vasculitis or hikers’ rash—is when the blood vessels become inflamed due to a combination of exercise and heat. And yes, it gets its name because it’s common at Disney World!

Officially known as exercise-induced vasculitis, it causes telltale itching, burning, and leg pain and might be accompanied by red or purple patches and swelling.

What to Do When You Experience Runner’s Itch

Stopping runner’s itch in the moment can be difficult. It’s easier when you know what’s behind it, but here are some things you can try to tame the itch and allow you to finish your run comfortably.

Slow Down or Take a Short Break

You can keep running, but that heartbeat will keep pumping blood through your veins and capillaries at the same rate!

Slowing down and allowing your heart rate to come down a little can reduce the pressure in those capillaries, easing up a little on the uncomfortable nerve stimulation.

Try Cooling Your Skin Down

A cold compress can offer some relief from the itch, especially if inflammation plays a role. The cold can lower swelling and numb the skin, relieving that itch and downplaying any burning sensations.

If you tend to suffer from runner’s itch in warm weather but not in the cold, this could work for you. Consider carrying a cooling towel or something similar that you can use when you start to feel the itching.

Carry a Small Towel to Remove Moisture

On the other hand, if excessive sweating contributes to your itching, consider carrying a small absorbent towel to blot up sweat as you’re running. Opt for moisture-wicking clothing as well, and avoid cotton!

Avoid Scratching

This is the toughest thing to do in this case. It’s hard to avoid scratching, especially if you accidentally start, and it worsens. But scratching can break the skin, leading to worse itching, pain—especially if sweat gets onto the broken skin—and, in severe cases, infection.

Tips to Reduce Runner’s Itch

Thankfully, there are some things you can do to reduce your chances of developing runner’s itch. Implement these tips and you should manage to avoid it… And if it does strike, you have some ideas of how to handle it mid-run.

Be a Consistent Runner

Consistency is key for performance, but also to avoid runner’s itch in the first place! While it can be if you don’t stop and start, you’ll automatically eliminate one of the possible reasons for the itch, so stay consistent!

Good Warm-Up and Cool-Down Routine

If you have recently returned to running, doing a proper warm-up can help get the blood flowing just enough for your body to adapt without causing the itch. Five to 10 minutes of walking then dynamic stretching should be enough.

Stay Hydrated

Hydration is always important when you’re running, but even more so if you tend to suffer from runner’s itch. Staying hydrated means your skin will stay moisturized, so you won’t suffer any negative effects from dry skin.

Moisturize Your Skin Before and After Running

If proper hydration isn’t quite enough, using a gentle, hypoallergenic moisturizer can make a big difference to your skin. Apply a moisturizer to your itch-prone areas about 30 minutes before your run.

This will give it enough time to soak in and restore moisture before you put on tights or pants and head out. You don’t want to be running with freshly-moisturized skin—give it a bit of time to do its job!

Apply an Anti-Itch Cream

Anti-itching cream can serve a dual purpose—restoring some moisture and reducing the chance of itching. Be sure to check the active ingredients in anti-itching cream to make sure you can use it.

Use Moisture-Wicking Fabrics

Moisture-wicking fabrics will ensure you don’t run in sweat-soaked clothing, increasing your chance of chafing. Choose running-specific clothing if possible—polyester or nylon materials are best.

Avoid cotton clothing or socks, as this fabric holds moisture and can increase friction, leading to worse itching.

Evaluate Your Cleaning Products

Aside from choosing the right clothing, make sure you’re using detergent that isn’t make sensitive or dry skin feel worse. Opt for a “gentle” or “hypoallergenic” detergent, or one that is for sensitive skin.

The same is true for your fabric softener, and even the soap you use when you shower. Choose mild, gentle formulas with less alcohol and free from parabens, which can aggravate sensitive skin and allergies.

Consider Taking a Non-Drowsy Antihistamine

If you’re prone to allergies, you may want to take an antihistamine on your run. If you feel the itch begin, you can pop the tablet, which should help. Make sure it’s a non-drowsy tablet, though—you don’t want to pass out during your run!

You can also take one 20 minutes before you run if you’re already worried about developing allergies on your run.

Have a Warm Epsom Salt Bath

If you’re still itchy when you get home from your run, soak in a warm Epsom salt bath. Some runners find that it helps with achy, cramping legs but can also soothe itching legs and reduce inflammation and redness.

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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.