Chafing

Most runners have experienced chafing somewhere on their body. Chafing happens when friction occurs repeatedly, rubbing the skin raw. Some runners notice chafing during their run. Some don’t realize they’ve been chafed until they’re showering afterward, when the mere contact with water on skin creates a painful, burning sensation. There are easy ways to treat chafed spots. Even better, there are ways to prevent chafing altogether.

Chafing happens when friction occurs repeatedly, rubbing the skin raw. Illustration: Oliver Baker

Chafing happens when friction occurs repeatedly, rubbing the skin raw. Illustration: Oliver Baker

Symptoms of Chafing

  • Discomfort in the form of burning, bleeding or general irritability on the surface of the skin while running or afterward.
  • Burning of the skin anywhere on the body when in the shower after a run.
  • A scabbed-over patch of skin a day or two after chafing has occurred..

Causes of Chafing

Chafing is caused by repetitive friction. Chafing can happen on or around the skin of the armpits, inner thighs, waist, chest, lower leg—anywhere on the body where excessive friction occurs enough to rub the skin raw.

Friction against clothing like an ill-fitting hydration belt or pack, a seam on a pair of shorts that hits you in a bad spot, or even a seemingly harmless shirt can also be the culprit.

Chafing Treatment

If a runner has discovered chafing while on the run, and doesn’t have any lube with them, the best bet is to try to remove the cause of the chafing. Run shirtless if the shirt that’s rubbing the wrong way. If the shorts or tights are causing pain on your skin, try rolling or adjusting the waistband or leg openings to remove the point of friction.

Once the run is complete and all clothing and gear can be removed, clean the affected area with water. Apply an antibiotic ointment. Leave the area uncovered to let air aid in healing the skin, if possible. If the area continues to chafe under clothes, then cover with a loose bandage (make sure to do this after applying an ointment). The area should scab over within a day or two.

Preventing Chafing

Lube of any sort—like BodyGlide or Vaseline (but know that Vaseline can stain your clothes)—is the best form of prevention against chafing. However, no runner wants to lube their entire body before a run. If you know certain parts of your body are prone to chafing, apply lube to that spot before a run, and try to identify and eliminate the cause. For specific chafed spots, try these preventative measures:

  • Mid-thigh skin-on-skin chafing: Wear tights, capris or above-the-knee-length compression shorts to create a wicking, snug-fitting, protective layer between the skin of your thighs. Otherwise, lube up and experiment with different shorts or running skirts (skirts often have compression shorts underneath).
  • Underarm skin-on-skin chafing: Experiment with different shirts, tanks, and sports bras. Try tight-fitting shirts that eliminate friction by staying close to the skin. Experiment with different deodorants/antiperspirants (which may not be the cause of, but could prove to be an irritant to the affected area).
  • Any spot irritated by clothing: Wear sweat-wicking fabrics (avoid cotton) that work to draw moisture away from the skin. Look for materials that feel good against the skin instead of rough fabrics. Make sure that seams on clothing don’t feel irritating when trying it on; that irritation will only increase dramatically on the run. Experiment with different cuts and fits of tops and bottoms to find silhouettes that work with your body type and shape. If it’s the nipples that are experiencing chafing, applying Band-Aids before a race can protect them from any shirt. Or try products like NipGuard, which are made specifically for this purpose.
  • Any spot irritated by a sports bra: Lube up before pulling on your sports bra. Shop for a new sports bra with differently placed shoulder straps, fabrics, and chest straps. Shop for bras with flat seams or seamless construction (but know that seamless bras don’t provide as much support than those with seams).

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