If you are just starting to do longer and longer runs in anticipating of the fall-winter marathon and half-marathon season, chances are good that soon you may become familiar with an irritating condition that troubles many runners: Chafing.
On the surface, chafing isn’t a serious running injury. Don’t tell though to a runner midway through a long run who is experiencing painful, even bloody chafing issues.
Just about every marathoner has had to deal with chafing at some point. It’s never pretty and can be so painful it can ruin a race. Fortunately, chafing is mostly preventable.
Chafing is usually caused by opposing skin surfaces rubbing against each other. Chafing can also occur when running clothes are new or rough around the edges or when seams rub against the skin. New T-shirts or singlets, running shorts and sports bras are frequent causes. And chafing is certainly more prevalent in the harsh conditions of summer but it can occur even on the coldest of days.
When the skins rubs, it produces friction which produces the red skin and the agony of the chafe. Sweating only makes it worse. The high chafe areas for runners are between the legs (in the groin area), in the arm pits, the nipples or where your shorts ride up on your thighs.
For several reasons, some runners are more susceptible to painful chafing than others. Usually, the runners who have the most severe chafing issues, either don’t pay enough attention to wearing comfortable, well-fitting running clothes (especially jogging bras) or simply have ultra-sensitive skin such as the nipples. Some runners chafe in certain areas and are immune to chafing in other spots.
Nevertheless, there are several ways to guard against painful chafing. Here are some tips:
- Lube up before you run. Use Body Glide (available at any running store) in the areas of your body that are most likely to chafe (or have chafed). Pay particular attention to your nipples and inner thighs and lube up liberally before a long run or race. The longer the run or race, the greater the likelihood of chafing. In marathons, chafing is practically an epidemic.
- Wear shorts and shirts that are designed specifically for running. Get the best shorts and singlets that are made from lightweight and fast-drying synthetics.
- Avoid cotton shorts, shirts or sweats. Cotton stays wet which increases friction and causes unbearable chafing. Plus, cotton gets heavy and uncomfortable.
- Heavier runners with “thunder” thighs should consider wearing mid-tights or biking shorts. This type of shorts will reduce the friction of thigh rubbing against thigh—a frequent, painful site for chafing.
- Women should wear running bras with flat or covered seams. Lubricate the straps and any areas that chafe.
- If your nipples get rubbed raw, use NipGuards or Band-Aids over them.
If you have chafed on a run and it stings like crazy in the shower, you need to treat and heal the raw area. First, clean the chafed area with water. But do not use soap. It will only irritate the skin even more than it already has been.
After cleaning the area, apply a cold, wet wash cloth to the spot and leave it on for 10 minutes. Following that, treat the chafed area with an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin or Neosporin.
Do not bandage the chafed area. If possible, leaving it uncovered will allow it to heal quicker. Unfortunately, most chafing occurs in areas that need to be covered with clothes. If you can, wear loose fitting clothes that won’t further irritate the chafed area.
Finally, be on the look-out for any infection of the chafed area. If an infection develops, the skin will ooze and look even worse. Visit a doctor who will need to prescribe a topical anti-microbial drug for you.
But protection is clearly the key. Many runners use Body Glide before every run to prevent painful chafing. Especially before a long run or long race, liberal use of Body Glide is a necessity for many runners.