How Runners Prevent Chafing Issues

Chafing can happen to the best of us, when we least expect it. Photo: Greg Hall

Some tried-and-true strategies to prevent chafing before it pains you.

During the intense final scene of the 2011 comedy “Horrible Bosses,” Kevin Spacey’s sociopath character is in the process of framing three men for a murder he committed when he randomly blurts out, “You can’t win a marathon without putting some Band Aids on your nipples!”

To which one of the victims, played by Charlie Day, turned to his friend and asked, “What does that mean?”

Ahh, but many runners know exactly what that means. If you’ve run long enough, certainly you’ve experienced a painful episode of chafing, where your skin is rubbed raw from the repetitive motion of running. Oftentimes, a chafing mishap happens to us once (and only once) before we learn our lesson and make sure our checklist covers that issue going forward.

But how can we better prevent chafing? And how do we deal with fabric-on-skin crime in its immediate aftermath?

Chafing is typically the result of consistent friction between skin and clothing, though it can also happen skin-to-skin. The result is skin rubbed raw, and in some cases, well beyond that. Due to the different apparel we wear, it seems men and women have different problem areas with a few common trouble spots.

Here’s a look at where chafing surfaces, how to treat it and how to prevent future occurrences from happening.

Thighs

A lubricant applied to your thighs before the run (we’re fond of BodyGlide) will help, but the problem could be in the shorts you’re wearing. If you’re noticing that a certain pair of shorts is always near the scene of the crime, try a different pair.

Says running coach Christine Hinton, who’s seen her fair share of chafing issues: “Certain strategies can help. If your upper thighs rub together, consider a pair of longer, tighter shorts.”

Nipples

Kevin Spacey nailed it, though he was speaking mostly to male runners.

Without safeguards in place, miles and miles of running can cause nipples to react horribly with a sweat-drenched top, rubbing them raw and in the worst cases, making them bleed (Google it if you dare). Races on chilly mornings can further compound this problem.

This is widespread enough that there are products on the market to prevent chafing of the nipples (NipGuard is one of the more well-known ones). If you need a remedy already at home, listen to Spacey—a couple of band-aids can be strategically applied to act as a barrier between the friction (pulling them off can be a problem if you have chest hair, but that’s another article).

You could also use a lubricant like BodyGlide on your nipples. Some men even use just normal deodorant as a lube.

One more tip: Avoid cotton shirts. They get wet and stay wet, and soaked shirts are one of the main issues.

RELATED: Dealing With Injuries That Aren’t Really Injuries

Armpits

Again, the armpits are an area with plenty of constant friction during the course of a long run, so it makes sense that chafing issues can pop up there (swimmers notice it, too). Skin rubbing against a shirt, or on recently shaved armpit stubble, can cause quite a bit of pain.

Like other areas, a lubricant applied before your run is the best answer. Some even apply the lubricant to the shirt to keep both offenders at bay. And avoid stubble, even if it means shaving right before your race.

Sports Bra

The sports bra is also a common cause of chafing for women, and Hinton notices it typically happens on the shoulder straps, or on the band along the bottom of the bra. Hinton recommends spreading some lube, either BodyGlide or Aquaphor, across all potential problem areas to prevent chafing.

Another tip? “Some women find relief wearing their bras inside out, so exposed seams are on the outside. A lot of manufacturers are now designing them this way,” Hinton says.

Lady Parts

As Hinton wrote for Women’s Running, “nothing below the belt is safe” if clothing has exposed seams or moisture-collecting material. For women, that includes about anything your imagination can think of, front to back.

Writes Hinton, “BodyGlide, or other lubricants, should be applied liberally on all areas you experience chafing. Take a sample of the product with you on longer runs to reapply along the way.”

Hinton knows an ultrarunner who carries a tube of Chapstick specifically to apply to areas that begin to chafe. “We always joked not to borrow her Chapstick, because you never know where it’s been!” Hinton says.

Heart Rate Monitor

Much like the sports bra, a heart rate monitor strap can cause issues on longer runs.

Lube is the easiest prevention measure, but of course, another, more-expensive answer is to get rid of the strap. Mio Global creates heart rate monitors minus the need for a strap, and GPS watches like the Tomtom Multi-Sport Cardio are starting to incorporate a heart rate monitor detected from the wrist.

Is the Damage Already Done?

OK, so you found this article a little too late (you should Google this before the race!) If you’re currently in pain somewhere, Hinton recommends gently cleaning the area with water.

“Then, depending on the severity, you can use diaper rash ointment or an antibiotic cream like Neosporin,” Hinton says. “A day later you should have scabbing, so be careful to protect that area from re-chafing.”

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