Chafing Prevention When Walking or Running

How to Prevent Painful Skin Chafing From Your Workouts

Thigh Chafing
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Chafing is damage to the skin caused by repetitive rubbing. A chafed area is basically a painful, bleeding scratch mark where your sweaty, salty skin has rubbed against your clothing or even against itself. When you sweat, the moist skin is more prone to damage, and then the salt crystals formed when sweat evaporates adds grit that can cause more friction and more chafing.

You can get chafing in hot weather as you sweat more, but you can also chafe in cold or dry weather.

Areas Prone to Chafing

If you know where chafing might happen, you can take measures to lubricate those areas before walking, running, cycling, or doing other exercises. Chafing is most often seen in the crevices of the body, with the crotch, armpits, under-breast area and inner thighs being prime chafing areas. It's also common to see chafed nipples, especially for runners.

Straps are another source of pressure that can lead to chafing. You are likely to experience chafing where backpack straps cross your shoulders or back or rub against your upper arms. Heart rate monitor straps can lead to chafing across your chest and back as well.

You might wonder if chafing is a signal that it is time to lose weight, but in fact even the skinniest walkers, runners,, and cyclists experience the same problem.

You can be toned and trim and still need to take measures to prevent chafing.

4 Tactics to Prevent Chafing

Prevention of chafing falls into four categories: staying hydrated, staying dry, using a lubricant, and wearing appropriate clothing.

  1. Hydration: Drink lots of water before, during, and after your walk, run, ride, or other workouts. This will allow you to perspire freely so the perspiration doesn't dry into salt crystals that can enhance the chafing.
  1. Staying dry: Try using less deodorant stick as that can make your skin tackier and rub together. Use talcum powder, cornstarch, or potato starch to stay dry. There are some brands formulated for sports, such as Squeaky Cheeks. If this method doesn't work, it is time to progress to using a lubricant. If your clothing gets wet during a workout, switch to dry gear.
  2. Lubrication: Walkers, runners, and cyclists use a variety of anti-chafing lubricants to keep the skin areas sliding past each other instead of rubbing each other raw. Plain old petroleum jelly is the standby choice. You can apply it liberally before your workout. Other traditional ointments include Bag Balm and Udder Cream, developed for dairy cows, which are available at the local feed shop or pet store. Sports stores have lubricants that are formulated to help prevent chafing during exercise. For example, BodyGlide goes on like a deodorant stick but improves on petroleum jelly in that it is petroleum-free and non-staining. SportShield roll-on silicone lubricant likewise has no odor, no petroleum ingredients, and doesn't leave a residue in clothing. There are also many hand creams that advertise their usefulness in chafing prevention. Open up your medicine cabinet and search for something that will keep the area lubricated.
  1. Clothing: Loose clothes may feel good on the trail and during workouts, but to prevent chafing you need a snug fit. Bike shorts or compression shorts are designed to give a skin-tight fit that will prevent chafing for the lower body or thigh area. For the upper body, polypropylene or lycra/spandex tops that fit skin tight will do the trick. Nipples are especially prone to chafing, for men and bra-less women. NipGuards or adhesive bandages can provide even more protection than lubrication. Your clothes should be of sweat-wicking fabric. You also need to choose clothing that is seamless or has flat seams in the areas that are prone to chafing.

    Solutions for Chafed Thighs

    If you have experienced chafed thighs, use the prevention tactics in these ways:

    • Start by keeping the area dry. You can use baby powder or a sports powder to ensure extra protection.
    • Choose spandex tights or light compression shorts that will protect your skin. Shorts should be long enough to cover any areas that have chafed in the past. Be sure they have flat seams or are seamless. Running skirts often have these shorts built-in. They should be made of sweat-wicking fabric, not cotton, if you are going to be exercising and sweating.
    • If you'd rather camouflage your silhouette, wear the shorts under looser shorts, pants, or a sports skirt. But be sure your combination fits well without fabric that ends up producing unwanted bunching and rubbing.
    • If you still have chafing problems, use a lubricant on the spots that are prone to chafing before you put on the tights or compression shorts.

    Treatment for Chafing

    If you feel chafing starting during your workout, stop and clean and bandage the area. If you must keep going, add a protective lubricant such as petroleum jelly to help prevent additional damage. Change into clean and dry clothing if you have it available.

    You may feel the pain from chafed areas during your workout or you may only experience it once you hit the showers. Once you are chafed, you should treat the area like an open wound. Wash and clean the area with antiseptic to prevent infection. This is likely to sting. Cover the chafed patches with a sterile gauze pad that allows the area to breathe until it is healed.

    Sources:

    Chafing. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002034.htm.

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