Learn How Runners Can Prevent and Treat Bloody Nipples

Solutions for a Painful Running Problem

Female runner running on urban footbridge at dawn
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Getting chafed or bleeding nipples when running can be extremely painful. Male runners are especially at risk for this common problem. You feel a burning, stinging sensation and look down to see blood on your shirt. Here is how to prevent and treat bloody nipples.

Causes of Bloody or Chafed Nipples

When you run, your nipples are constantly rubbing the fabric of your shirt. At the same time, you are sweating and the water softens the skin, leaving it more prone to tearing.

The salt in your sweat can crystallize and provide another source of irritation for the skin.  Over the course of a run or race (especially a long one), this sensitive area of your nipples can be rubbed to the point of bleeding. It most frequently happens when a man runs in a cotton shirt because the fabric is rougher than synthetics and cotton does not wick away sweat as fast as synthetics. Because women wear tight-fitting sports bras, nipple chafing usually isn't an issue for them.


Some men learn the hard way how painful bloody and chafed nipples can be, but it's actually very easy to avoid that problem. Generously apply a lubricant like petroleum jelly or Body Glide to the nipple area before a long run and you should be fine.

Lubrication may not be enough protection, and some men will also wear products such as Nip Guards or Band-aids to protect the nipples. Also, for longer runs, make sure that you wear a synthetic-material (Dri-Fit, not cotton) shirt closest to your body.

Women should make sure their sports bras fit properly and aren't made of cotton. Synthetic materials will also dry faster than cotton, which is important because wet skin can make chafing worse.


If you're in the middle of a run and start to feel pain in the nipple area, it's not too late to apply a lubricant and keep the chafing from getting worse.

Some runners carry a small tube of Aquaphor or Vaseline in their running belt or pocket so they're prepared for chafing issues. If you're running a marathon or other race with medical aid stations along the course, they'll most likely have petroleum jelly on hand.

Sometimes the nipples are more painful after you finish your run, especially once you take a shower and the hot water hits them. Make sure you clean the chafed nipples with water and dry them thoroughly. After cleaning the area, apply some A+D ointment or petroleum jelly. If your nipples are very painful, swollen, bleeding, or crusted, consult your health care provider, who may recommend a medicated ointment.

You may need to take a day or two off from running to give your nipples some time to heal from the chafing. Continued friction will not only be painful, but it could lead to infection.

If your skin chafing doesn't improve after trying these steps, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. You may need a prescription-strength antibiotic ointment if the area is infected.


Helm MF, N. Helm T, F. Bergfeld W. Skin problems in the long-distance runner 2500 years after the battle of marathonInternational Journal of Dermatology. 2012;51(3):263–270. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2011.05183.x.