9 Embarrassing Running Problems

Preventing the Conditions That Leave You Red-Faced

While running is a great source of exercise, elevating both the mood and energy levels, there are times when a runner can literally run into an embarrassing health situation.

From rashes and acne to flatulence and hemorrhoids, here are the nine health conditions that can leave runners red-faced (and the ways to help treat or prevent them):

1
Excessive Sweating

Woman with sweat on face
Lucie Wicker/Getty Images

Some runners will experience excessive sweating during their runs, especially on the hands, feet, and armpits. While perspiration is a perfectly normal process that helps keep the body cool, profuse sweating (hyperhidrosis) occurs when the body's cooling system malfunctions, causing sweat to literally pour from the body.

There are certain treatments you can pursue if you are prone to hyperhidrosis:

  • Use an antiperspirant regularly. If your condition is persistent, you may need a clinical-strength antiperspirant prescribed by your doctor.
  • Botox injections are approved to treat underarm hyperhidrosis. The injections temporary block a chemical that stimulates the sweat glands.
  • Medications called anticholinergics are sometimes used off-label to treat hyperhidrosis.
  • Surgical options may be explored for severe cases.

It is important to see a doctor if the problem persists or worsens as it may be the sign an underlying illness or infection.

2
Leaky Bladder

Female runners will sometimes have problems with urinary incontinence, especially if they've just given birth.

When the pelvic and sphincter muscles are strong, they can withstand the sudden pressure from a cough, sneeze, or exercise. But when the muscles become stretched and weak, as can happen during pregnancy, any sudden jolt can inadvertently squeeze urine from the bladder. This can also happen as a person ages, both in women and men.

You can help alleviate the problem by practicing Kegel exercises designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. The process is relatively simple:

  • To locate the correct muscles, try to stop the flow of urine without using your stomach, leg, or butt muscles. When you're able to slow or stop the stream, you've located the right muscles.
  • To perform the Kegel exercise, contract the muscles for 10 seconds and release for 10 seconds. Repeat this 10 times and do the same thing at least three to four times daily.

After around six to eight weeks, you should notice improvements in your bladder control. Losing weight can also relieve some of the pressure on the bladder.

If exercise and weight loss don't help, speak with your doctor. Severe cases may require surgery.

3
Runner's Diarrhea

Running is a good way to maintain normal bowel function, but there are times when it can work a little too well.

Runner's diarrhea (sometimes referred to as "runner's trots") may be related to your diet but can also be the result of the reduced blood flow to the digestive tract when running. Dehydration and low electrolytes may also contribute as can pre-race anxiety and the physical jostling of the organs themselves.

To help prevent runner's trot:

  • Avoid caffeine and high-fiber foods (such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains) before working out.
  • Keep well hydrated by drinking 64 ounces of water every day. You'll know you are well-hydrated when your urine is a pale yellow color.
  • Gradually sip a sports drink during long runs to maintain electrolyte levels.
  • Snack on foods that are naturally binding such as bananas, plain bagels, rice, oatmeal, or pasta.
  • Do not eat at least two hours before a run so that your body has plenty of time to digest.
  • If you are prone to diarrhea, plan long runs along routes where public bathrooms are accessible.
  • If the problem persists, see a doctor to explore other possible causes of diarrhea such as irritable bowel syndrome.

4
Black or Lost Toenails

Black Toenail
anaya/Deposit Photos

Some runners, especially those training for long-distance events, can suffer from black or lost toenails.

Black toenails are caused by the constant rubbing of your toe against the front of your shoe. Since the resulting blood blister can't breathe as it would on the skin, it takes far longer to heal. You are more likely to get a black toenail in warm weather because your feet tend to swell when it's hot.

There are several things you can do to prevent black toenails:

  • Make sure that you're wearing the correct size shoe (at least a half size bigger than your street shoes).
  • Trim your toenails regularly.
  • Keep your feet as dry as possible during runs.
  • Wear synthetic wicking socks rather than standard cotton socks.

If you get a black toenail, it is best to leave it alone. The damaged nail will eventually be pushed off and replaced by a new one. Do not force the old nail off as this can lead to infection.

If you experience persistent pain, swelling, redness, or pus, see a doctor.

5
Acne on the Upper Body

Acne on the back, chest, and upper arms is a common problem for runners, especially women. It tends to appear where clothing comes into close contact with skin (such as under a sports bra).

The problem occurs when friction from clothing abrades the skin, allowing sweat and body salts to clog pores and cause infection. Makeup and sunscreen can further exacerbate the problem.

To avoid this:

  • Change out of your sweaty clothes immediately after running.
  • Shower and cleanse acne-prone areas thoroughly. Acne formulated soap is especially useful for this.
  • Avoid wearing makeup during exercise.
  • Opt for an oil-free sunscreen formulated for the face and neck. Use a gel rather than a cream-based sunscreen for the rest of your body.

6
Chafing or Hemorhoids

chafing groin or crotch
Pedro Jose Perez/Istockphoto

The problem with a chafed crotch or groin is that you can often see it in a person's gait. Beyond the abrasions from clothing, the buildup of salt on the skin can act like sandpaper, causing pain and redness where the underwear comes into contact with the joints of the pelvis.

By contrast, hemorrhoids may not be caused by running but can be exacerbated by the repetitive rubbing of tissues during activity.

To help prevent or treat these conditions:

  • Wear tight-fitting, non-cotton underwear designed to wick moisture away from the crotch.
  • Buy synthetic running shorts with "built-in" underwear.
  • Use spandex compression shorts instead of underwear.
  • Apply a skin lubricant like Gold Bond Friction Defense on the groin, underarms, feet, or anywhere where chafing or blisters can develop.
  • Apply a medicated hemorrhoid cream whenever you plan to run or place a soft pad in between your buttocks to avoid irritation.

If you experience severe chafing, develop an infection, or have painful, bleeding hemorrhoids, you will need to cease activity and seek treatment from a doctor.

7
Sore or Bloody Nipples

Some runners, usually men, can get chafed or bloody nipples after a long run. This happens when the nipples are constantly abraded against the coarse fabric of a shirt. Men are more prone to this simply because they aren't afforded the same protection that women have with a sports bra.

To prevent this:

  • Generously apply a lubricant like Vaseline or BodyGlide to the nipples before a run.
  • Some men will also wear products such as Nip Guards or Band-Aids to protect the nipples.
  • Wear synthetic shirts rather than cotton for long runs. Women should avoid sports bras made of cotton.
  • You can use an antiseptic cream on your nipples to treat the irritation and prevent infection.

8
Flatulence

Passing gas is something is something that everyone does but may be harder to control when you are running. The very action of running can flex the sphincter muscles in a way that releases gas unexpectedly.

To help prevent this:

  • Avoid eating foods that cause gas at least two to three hours before a run. The includes sugar-rich and high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, bran, and beans.
  • Do not rush when eating meals. Doing so causes you to swallow excess air which will eventually find its way of the body either through belching or flatulence
  • Keep well-hydrated. Dehydration slows the movement of the bowels and potentiates gas.
  • Take digestive aids like Beano or Beano Meltaway which help break down complex carbohydrates in gassy foods. (Antacids do nothing to prevent gas.)
  • If excessive gas continues or worsens, see a doctor to determine whether there may be a medical reason for it.

9
Heat Rash

hives (urticaria) on the abdomen after running
Mr_Seng/Istockphoto

Some runners will occasionally break out in a red, itchy rash during their run. We refer to this as cholinergic urticaria (also known as heat rash). It is a condition triggered by the sudden increase in body temperature during activity, most often in hot and muggy weather. It can sometimes look blotchy and red or be more hive-like appearance.

To prevent or treat heat rash:

  • Take an antihistamine. Older generation antihistamines such as Atarax/Vistaril (hydroxyzine) appear to be more effective in treating the condition.
  • Avoid running on extremely hot and humid days or reduce the intensity of your workout.
  • Stop exercising at the first appearance of the characteristic rash.
  • Severe cases may need to be treated with anabolic steroids.

Heat rash should not be confused with exercise-induced anaphylaxis (EIA), a severe allergic reaction associated with exercise. EIA is a potentially life-threatening, all-body inflammation characterized by breathing distress, nausea, vomiting, hives, bloating, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, and cramps.

If left untreated, EIA can lead to shock, loss of consciousness, cardiac or respiratory arrest, and even death. Emergency care should be sought immediately if any of these symptoms arise following exercise.

Source:

Barg, W.; Medrala, W.; and Wolanczyk-Madrala, A. "Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis: An Update on Diagnosis and Treatment." Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2011; 11(1):45-51. DOI: 10.1007/s11882-010-0150-y.

De Oliveira, E. "Runner's diarrhea: what is it, what causes it, and how can it be prevented?" Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2017; 33(1):41-6. DOI: 10.1097/MOG.0000000000000322.

Kenny, K. "Diagnosis and Treatment of Hyperhidrosis." J Dermatol Nurse Assoc. 2010; 2(4):171-3. DOI: 10.1097/JDN.0b013e3181ef6144.