Running and chafing go together, unfortunately. The heat, sweat, and friction of physical exertion combined with the repetitive motion of running put delicate skin to the test. Chafing can get bad enough to slow your pace or even sideline you from a race. Treatment and prevention, especially for long-distance runners, can keep you on target for your running goals.
What is Chafing?
Friction causes the tiny tears in the skin that’s known as chafing. Skin-on-skin, skin-to-clothing, and skin-to-equipment (hydration pack) rubbing can create the raw skin, rash, or blisters of chafing. In extreme cases, the chafing can be so severe that there’s swelling and bleeding. Any activity with repetitive motion can cause chafing, but runners and cyclists seem to suffer from it most.
Some of the contributing factors include:
- Ill-fitting clothes
- Non-wicking fabrics
- Extra body weight
- Sensitive skin
- Larger muscles
Just because you haven’t chafed before doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible. All it takes is one run with the right conditions to leave you walking like a cowboy after a cattle drive.
Here are a few tips to fight the rub and keep you running.
1. Prepare Before You Run
Apply a chafe prevention product before you run. For example, VitalFit’s Liquid-to-Powder Plus applies like a lotion but dries to create a non-sticky, friction barrier. It’s easy to apply to problem areas and is designed to resist sweat, so it doesn’t wash away as the heat rises.
Some runners prefer a chafing balm that comes in a stick like a deodorant. These products are effective and easy to apply. However, you may have to reapply mid-run if the balm washes off as you perspire.
2. Pay Attention to Hotspots
Hotspots on your feet lead to blisters, but on the body, they’re the beginnings of painful chafing. There are common chafing areas, such as between the thighs and in the groin area. But chafing can also pop up in places you don’t expect, like near the armpits or under the bust for women. Address hotspots as soon as you notice them. Ignoring them will let the problem progress.
3. Wear Performance Fabrics and Clothing
Fabric choice and clothing design make more than a difference in comfort. They’re key to staying pain-free. A misplaced seam or fabric that holds moisture provides friction and fuel for chafing. Seamless or flat-seamed running shorts and shirts made of moisture-wicking synthetic or wool fabrics offer the best chafing protection. Look for running clothes that are tag-free, too.
Avoid cotton. Yes, cotton is breathable, but it holds onto moisture and irritates the skin.
4. Get the Right Fit
Fit matters, too. Clothing that’s too tight can dig into the skin, chafing at the seams. Clothing that’s too loose may move too much, causing extra friction. Look for clothes that fit closely to the body without constricting movement.
Take a close look at your undergarments, too. The wrong pair can cause chafing around the underwear line. Built-in briefs work great for some runners but not for others. Some runners require special non-chafing underwear or compression shorts to prevent chafing. Learn what works for you, and use it on every run.
5. Protect Sensitive Areas
For men, the nipples can easily chafe and bleed. Use protective shields or covers. For women, the underbust area can chafe due to excess sweat or an ill-fitting sports bra. You can apply chafe protection products here and make sure to get the appropriate fit for all undergarments.
6. Stay Hydrated
If you’re dehydrated, your body has a harder time flushing away the salt and minerals from perspiration. Drink. Drink. Drink. Fluids provide more flushing power, keeping your body functioning and skin happy.
7. Moisturize the Skin
Moist skin maintains its integrity and resists chafing better than dry skin. Moisturize your skin in the morning, after showering, and before bed.
How to Treat Chafing
If the rub has already gotten to you, here are a few tips to promote healing:
- Moisturize: Keep the skin well moisturized. The skin heals while you sleep, so apply a nighttime moisturizer, like VitaFit Night Moisturizer, that contains healing ingredients.
- Shower immediately: Don’t hang around in clothes soaked with perspiration. Shower as soon as possible to remove salty residue from the skin.
- Wear loose clothing: When you’re not running, let the chafed area breathe by wearing loose clothing.
- Treat the chafed area: Cover the chafed area with non-stick gauze like you would a burn. You can also use diaper rash products on the area to protect it and prevent rubbing.
- Stop running: No runner wants to hear that they need to take a break. However, a short break gives the skin time to heal. Try cross-training, like swimming or biking, to keep up your endurance.
Severe chafing, like chafing that blisters or bleeds, may require medical attention. Call your doctor to determine if you need extra interventions.
Runner’s high is hard to beat, but it’s also hard to keep if chafing forces you off the road. Apply chafe prevention products, get the right clothes, and take prevention seriously. With chafing under control, you’ll stay on the road and moving toward your goals.