Why You Have Itchy Legs When You Walk or Exercise

Causes and Solutions From Food to Pants to Shoes

Itchy Legs
Ian Hooton/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Itchy legs when you walk or exercise is a symptom that can drive you crazy and disrupt your exercise sessions. Some walkers complain that when they walk their legs become so itchy they just have to stop. Sometimes walking and jogging were the only exercises that produced this condition, they were fine with gym exercise and many sports. There are a few different syndromes and problems associated with this annoying problem.

Symptoms of Itchy Legs

The people with this symptom report Itching, swelling, or hives on the legs, arms, torso, or neck during or after exercise. Some people even see the symptoms escalate progress to an anaphylactic reaction, which can include passing out unconscious or closing off of the airway. When that happens, it is a life-threatening medical emergency.

Cholinergic Urticaria (Itching) Exercise Allergy

Cholinergic urticaria is triggered by the rise in body temperature during exercise. It produces the itching, swelling, and small hives that some people experience. People who have this may also experience the same reaction in hot tubs or saunas. They may note that they are more likely to get the itching and hives on hot days. This rarely leads to anaphylaxis, which is the life-threatening drop in blood pressure that can be fatal in major allergic reactions. But it is wise to discuss it with your doctor to see what she recommends and to see whether any treatment by over-the-counter or prescription medication might help.

Treatment for cholinergic urticaria may include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Avoiding exercising on warm or humid days
  • Reducing the intensity of your workout
  • Stopping exercising at the first sign of flushing, itchy skin, or hives.

Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis Exercise Allergy

Exercise-induced anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that is usually seen when the person exercises after eating certain foods or taking medications to which she is allergic.

Shellfish, wheat, hazelnuts, grapes, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen), antibiotics, over-the-counter cold medications, and herbal supplements can be the culprits.

The symptoms of the attack are fatigue, warmth, itching, and redness of the skin. These can be followed by large hives, collapse, and unconsciousness. The person having the reaction may have swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, choking, nausea, and vomiting. Often, this attack is a medical emergency. But even if you have a milder episode, you should see your doctor as soon as possible for further examination and recommendations.

Treatment for exercise-induced anaphylaxis may include:

  • Working with your doctor to develop a comprehensive anaphylaxis action plan
  • Carrying and knowing how to use a self-injectable epinephrine kit
  • Avoiding the triggering food or medication on the day before and day of your exercise session
  • Wearing a medic-alert bracelet describing your condition and what you are sensitive to
  • Walking with someone who knows about your condition and is prepared to call for emergency assistance

Itchy Pants Syndrome

Do certain pairs of pants make your legs feel itchy, stinging, and irritated, especially in the thighs?

This is more frequently seen when the pants are made of fabrics other than cotton. The cause is thought to be the fabric finishes or formaldehyde that remains in the cloth, but laboratory tests don't bear this out. Still, some people have itchy legs wearing anything other than 100 percent plain cotton denim. See your doctor to rule out other causes of itching.

Solutions for itchy pants syndrome may include:

  • Wearing pre-washed, cotton-only, non-designer blue jeans
  • Switching to wearing skirts
  • Over-the-counter topical anti-itch medications

Shoe and Sock Allergies

If your legs are fine but you have an itching sensation on your ankles and feet, you may be allergic to your shoes and socks.

A sock allergy is probably similar to itchy pants—you may be reacting to the sock fabric. But shoe allergies can come from many different glues, dyes, and leather tanning agents. You may need to be allergy-tested for these and find shoes that are not made with these chemicals.

A Word From Verywell

Exercise allergies are weird things walking does to your body. But it is still important to get healthy physical activity. See your doctor and work towards solutions so you won't miss out.

Sources:

Kanani A, Schellenberg R, Warrington R. Urticaria and Angioedema. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology. 2011;7(Suppl 1):S9. doi:10.1186/1710-1492-7-s1-s9.

Kounis N, Kounis G, Soufras G. Exercise-Induced Urticaria, Cholinergic Urticaria, and Kounis Syndrome. Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics. 2016;7(1):48. doi:10.4103/0976-500x.179355.

Pravettoni V, Incorvaia C. Diagnosis of Exercise-Induced Anaphylaxis: Current Insights. Journal of Asthma and Allergy. 2016;Volume 9:191–198. doi:10.2147/jaa.s109105.

Sheehan MP. Allergic Contact Dermatitis of the Foot, The Dermatologist, Volume 20 - Issue 11 - November 2012.