Many a runner has told me that they can’t run in shorts due to thigh chafing. And anyone who has dealt with chafing while running fully understands that fear.
Nothing is worse that feeling that sting mid-way through a run and knowing there is almost nothing you can do about.
Well, it’s possibly worse when you step in to the shower and yelp as water hits a spot you didn’t realize had been rubbed raw.
Running is supposed to be fun, so let’s talk about ways to avoid this painful issue and what to do if you’ve already got chafing rash or skin irritation.
What is chafing?
Chafing is a skin irritation caused by skin rubbing against skin, fabric or another surface. The repeated friction leads to an inflamed area of skin.
Symptoms of chafing are hard to miss as the area is red, burning, stinging and if it continues bleeding or swelling.
Medically the skin-to-skin rubbing is called intertrigo, but runners who often experience inner thigh chafing refer to as chub rub. Personally, I dislike this terminology because it takes away from our muscled powerful legs that are working hard.
But it’s also not uncommon to find chafing under the armpits, along the seams of a sports bra or heart rate monitor. And gentlemen get to deal with an especially fun form called runner’s nipple.
Chafing is different than the rubbing that occurs in your running shoeswhich can lead to blisters.
👉Checkout these tips to prevent running blisters.
What causes chafing?
As noted friction is the main cause of chafing, but there are a few specific things which could be contributing.
As someone who has extraordinarily large calves, it’s not uncommon for my calves to rub as I run.
Yup! Those bad boys are nothing but muscle, but my stride keeps my legs fairly close together and therefore rubbing can occur.
Most runners more commonly find this as inner thigh chafing or chafing in the groin area. It’s simply any area where the skin is more likely to touch repeatedly while we’re in motion and thus rubs together.
Running in the heat and humidity can indeed make chafing worse.
The dampness of your skin, combined with the salt of sweat, rub against your clothing an increase that chance of burning. I always wear my damp skin just got more sensitive, but it’s actually the friction.
If your legs itch while running, then the weather could definitely be playing a role in your chafing issues as well.
While we might prefer a looser fit, if you’re having issues with chafing it’s time to look in to good running tights or a more fitted shirt. As the looser fabric moves around, it can result in irritation.
- Try more fitted running tights or shorts (love the Lululemon Fast and Free)
- Run in tighter fitting tanks or if you’re comfortable in a sports bra go for that
- Ensure that your hydration pack is snug to the body so it’s not bouncing around
One of the worst offenders for me used to be the seams along the side of a sports bra or the seams along the back of my compression tights.
Now I’m far pickier with what I choose and use the tips below to help those areas have less friction!
Though even decades in to running, it still happens! This is not a new runner problem, it’s a life long gotta work on it issue.
How to Stop Chafing While Running?
Knowing some of the causes, you probably have a good idea of how to prevent chafing, but let’s look at each option a bit more in depth.
1. Best Chafing Cream
Step one is to start using an anti-chafe treatment before all of your workouts. While these are often referred to as creams, you’ll find they come in a number of different forms from sticks that look like deodorant to powders.
These will create a barrier between your skinallowing things to glide past each other rather than rub.
The goals are to find one that contains wax, silicone, petroleum or lanolin.
A standard moisturizing lotion is great for your skin, but not enough to help create that barrier as you sweat.
Having learned the important of these anti-chafing creams, I keep one near my gear, another in my trail running go bag and another in my suitcase so I always have it when I travel!
2. Moisture Wicking and Seamless Gear
As noted above we want to help our skin remain as dry as possible. If you sweat like me that’s not super dry, but there is a massive difference between a wet cotton shirt and a wicking one.
- Avoid cotton at all costs
- Checkout the location of seams under the armpits or tags
- This includes seams in your socks (why I like SwiftWick)
3. Dry Fit Running Underwear
Especially for those who deal with chafing in the groin area, the dry fit underwear can be a good solution.
I’ve done a whole article on finding good running underwear, so I won’t belabor the point…
But seriously, stop with the cotton.
4. Properly Fitting Gear
As you can see in my own photo above even your favorite gear can lead to issues on days where it’s hotter or simply not fitted correctly.
- Your hydration pack should be snug enough that it doesn’t bounce.
- Heart rate straps also need to be snug, so this is where I’ve found Rock Tape to really help protect the skin
- Shorts shouldn’t ride up or have enough fabric they are creating bulk in your inner thigh area
5. Maintain Good Hydration
Did you know that when you become dehydrated your sweat contains more salt? Fun fact. But also a reminder that yet again staying on top of your hydration can prevent a boatload of running issues.
Beyond the salt friction, the dryer your skin becomes the more it could rub on your clothing. It doesn’t have the same elasticity when dry and is yet another chafing factor.
How to Treat Chafing?
While we tend to look at chafing as an annoyance, remember that this is now exposed skin in a moist sweaty environment, which means it could lead to an infection.
So if you’re already dealing with it, let’s look at a few ideas to help take care of your skin.
How to treat chafing during a run?
Obviously on the run you are limited in your options. So the focus is on how can we reduce or eliminate the friction that is causing the pain.
- That could mean taking off your hydration pack or heart rate monitor
- Carrying an anti-chafe stick with you for emergencies.
- Another option that I’ve found useful over the years is to carry Rock Tape or Compeed blister pads in my pack (I put them in a ziploc so they don’t get wet).
If I can cover the area then that’s going to prevent further rubbing, which will allow me to finish the run and then fully deal with the situation at home.
Treating Chaffed Areas
Whether you are dealing with chafing in the groin area as a female or on your nipple’s as a guy or in where in between, the overall process it same!
1.Clean the Area
The first thing you want to do when you finish your run is clean the area. It’s not going to be pleasant, but you want to wash it with fresh water and light soaps, no harsh body scrubs.
After washing the area, it’s time to put on an ointment like Neosporin or Cerave healing ointment.
2. Keep it Loose
Then put on loose clothing to prevent any additional rubbing.
You may also find that initially it feels best to cover the area with a band-aid or gauze. However, don’t keep it covered continuously, we want the area to breathe so it will begin healing.
3. Find Ways to Prevent Friction on the Next Run
Maybe you need to wear tights for a few runs or put on the aforementioned Rock Tape. But make sure you don’t simply allow that area to continue being rubbed on the next run or you could indeed be heading towards infection.
All right, now that we have covered all things chafing, I hope you have some ideas to put it behind you and run on pain free.
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