Chafing and Running: How to Prevent it and Deal with it

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Chafing and running is a number one complaint among athletes, especially long-distance runners. And there is no question why. Chafing can be crippling for a runner.

There are two types of chafing: skin-on-skin and fabric-on-skin. Skin-on-skin chafing is where your thighs or underarms rub together. Fabric-on-skin is when your shirt, sports bra, or bottoms rub the skin and aggravate it.

Chafing is caused by several different factors, including:

  • Extra body weight
  • Loose-fitting clothes
  • Non-breathable fabric
  • Hot or humid weather
  • Sensitive skin
  • Large muscles

Although minor chafing may not seem like an issue, it can turn out to be pretty painful and can hinder your overall performance, even forcing you to stop running in some situations.

And running through chafing just makes it worse, and can mean that you have to take time off to heal.

Thankfully, you can prevent chafing while running with these helpful tips and tricks.

Chafing and Running: How to Prevent it and Deal with it 1

7 Tips to Prevent Running Chafing

1. Wear Tight Layers

Skin-tight layers should be your best friend to prevent chafing. Reducing friction on your skin is one of the best ways to avoid chafing. Tight clothes provide a barrier so your skin won’t rub against other areas of the skin or loose fabric.

Dr. Dendy Engleman, a dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery and Director of Dermatologic Surgery at Metropolitan Hospital, recommends “Forego loose, ill-fitting cotton clothing because that just traps in moisture.” Instead, look for tops and bottoms made from synthetic materials that will cling to your body.

Related Guide: What To Wear When You Go Running

2. Wear Anti-Chafing Thigh Bands

Thigh bands are a fantastic choice for preventing thigh chafing while running. The best-known brand out there is Banelettes; their thigh bands are made to be worn up high on the thigh to avoid groin and thigh chafing.

These anti-chafing bands are made from synthetic microfibers and non-slip silicone to prevent them from sliding down your legs. 

3. Lotion Up

Although it seems like slathering up before running would lead to more chafing, it’s quite the opposite. A little lubrication prevents the friction that leads to chafing.

To avoid a rash from running, Dr. Engleman recommends using Vaseline, Body Glide (designed for runners), or a hypoallergenic balm on sensitive areas before starting.

It is crucial to cover all hot the usual hotspots like your thighs, groin, armpits, and nipples (see our guide to avoiding Runner’s Nipple!).

chafing and running

4. Powders Do the Job Too

Melanie Kann, a New York Road Runners coach, says powders are beneficial once chafing has already started. “After your run, dry the area thoroughly and use a medicated powder to keep the chafed area dry,” she says.

Cornstarch-based powders work well for preventing sweating in problem areas.

5. Be Sure Your Equipment Won’t Cause Chafing

Heart rate monitors, hydration packs and belts, and armbands for your phone are all things that can cause chafing, and you should consider them before starting your run.

To prevent or minimize the effects of chafing from your equipment, make sure to tighten straps so that your gear isn’t bouncing around and lubricate the areas that it will touch.

Related: How to run with your phone

7. Stay Well Hydrated

With any sports-related ailment, prevention is the best policy, and chafing isn’t any different. Keeping yourself hydrated while running lowers the salt concentration in your sweat, which aids in preventing friction.

Proper water intake and using the tips in this article to care for areas prone to rubbing together are the best ways to avoid chafing.

Chafing while running can happen anywhere you have clothes rubbing against your body or in areas where your body rubs against itself. Most people do, however, chafe in four specific areas.

These areas are the thighs, groin, nipples, and armpits. If you have chafing in any of these four problem areas, follow the tips below.

chafing and running

How to Prevent Chafing in Your Thighs, Nipples, Groin Area, and Armpits

Thigh Chafing

Thigh chafing while running doesn’t just affect your performance during the run. If it is bad enough, it can affect your daily life and cause you to stop exercising until it heals. If you specifically struggle with thigh chafing, try these preventative measures.

Keep your thighs dry Use a non-talculm body powder or a sports powder before you start your run to keep the area dry and ensure extra protection.

Wear spandex or light compression shorts Spandex and compression shorts are usually made of breathable, runner-friendly fabric. Remember to be sure your shorts are long enough to cover any areas that have chafed in the past.

Layer your bottoms – You can wear shorts or leggings under looser fitting gear to protect from thigh chafing. Be sure the combination is comfortable and won’t cause any unwanted bunching or rubbing during your run.

chafing and running

Groin Chafing

Groin chafing can be especially troublesome for men, but women do suffer from it as well. Chafing in this area can make daily life extremely painful. If groin chafing is your main concern, these tips can help.

Generously apply lubricants Applying lubricants like Vaseline or A&D Ointment can prevent your skin from becoming too dry and rubbing together. It may even be necessary to reapply during long runs.

Lubricate your upper thighs, too If you are running in bikini underwear or briefs, this is especially important as these types of underwear can irritate that area.

Wear snug workout shorts Seamless shorts are great for groin chafing. It is also a good idea to avoid shorts that bunch up near the area.

chafing and running

Runner’s Nipple

This type of chafing can happen to both males and females. Although it doesn’t affect your daily life like some other forms of chafing, it can still be highly uncomfortable. Here are some tips to prevent chest and nipple chafing.

Choose the right sports bra If you wear a sports bra when running, it is wise to choose one that fits properly and is made from synthetic materials, not cotton.

Cover your nipples You can cover your nipples with bandaids or specialized products, such as NipGuards.

Generously lubricate your nipples Like with any other problem area, lubricating your nipples can prevent them from becoming too dry and chafing. If you wear a sports bra, lubricate areas around the straps as well.

Armpit Chafing

Armpits are highly prone to chafing since it is extremely common to sweat there. Here are some valuable ways to keep your armpits from rubbing.

Don’t have armpit stubble Armpit stubble can be a significant factor when it comes to chafing under your armpits. To prevent this from happening, either keep your armpit hair long or make sure it stays freshly shaven.

Lubricate – As with any other problem areas, it is essential to ensure your armpits are well lubricated with a silicone-based lubricant or an antiperspirant that dries into a powder.

Make sure shirts fit well in the armpits Shirts that are tight around your armpits almost always cause chafing. Look for seamless shirts or tank tops with wider arm openings.

Related: Runner’s Itch: Why You Have It and How to Get Rid of It

chafing and running

How to Treat Chafing In the Middle of Your Run

Regardless of how hard you try, sometimes chafing and running go hand in hand. If you are running and begin to feel that uncomfortable stinging sensation of chafing, immediately stop and clean the area with soap and water if possible. If you can’t stop, here are the steps you should follow to help it heal and relieve the pain afterward.

• Be sure your shower water is lukewarm, as a steaming hot shower can make the burning worse.

• Gently wash the area with antibacterial soap.

• Pat the area dry and apply an antibacterial ointment like A&D Ointment or Desitin.

• Cover the area with gauze or something similar that will allow it to breathe while it heals.

 • Put on loose, comfortable clothing that won’t irritate the area.

After a few days, the chafed area should scab over and heal like any other scratch. Your skin will be tender, and you need to protect it from being irritated further.

Related: Runner’s Footcare: Injuries and Footcare for Runners

chafing and running

When to see a doctor

Consult your nearest healthcare provider if there are any signs of infection, or you have diabetes, and the skin is not healing. You might have a skin infection if:

  • It’s been a couple of days, and the area hasn’t scabbed over
  • Blood or puss is coming from the spot where chafing occurred.
  • Your skin around the area is hot to the touch
  • There is swelling

It is not easy preventing chafing while running, especially as you start running in hot summer months up ahead. Being aware of your problem areas and taking preventative measures to keep them from rubbing is the only thing you can do regarding chafing.

Luckily, if a chafing injury does occur, it heals quickly as long as you take care of it and give it time to heal!

chafing and running

Photo of author
Mia Kercher is a hiker, cyclist, and runner. After finishing her first marathon in 2013, she continued the sport but found a new passion in trail running. She now explores the glorious mountains in Portland, Oregon.

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