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What’s the Deal With Chafing?

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Running may be a form of therapy for some in it creates a sense of bliss, freedom, strength and endurance. But running isn’t always easy and breezy. Sometimes long distance running can include painful side effects, outside of the assumed muscular discomfort one would expect from repeated high impact activities. Newer or less experienced runners sometimes may find themselves in unchartered territories when their mileage starts to steadily increase. Besides incredible and beneficial health changes such as improvement in cardiovascular endurance, one may start to experience less comfortable and irritating bodily changes with increased time on your feet. Most experienced runners will be able to list off several nuisances that accompany long distance running from blisters to gastrointestinal issues to losing toe-nails. Our goal today is to get to the bottom of a quite literal, burning and annoyingly painful issue called chafing.

What is chafing?

The derivative of the word chafing comes from chafe; as a verb means to cause specific body soreness from rubbing and as a noun means irritation and/or annoyance. Therefor, runner chafing brings nothing but trouble to one’s run. Our bodies react in certain ways to protect the skin against harm. Similar to skin burning when being out in the sun too long, our bodies react to the act of over-rubbing of the skin, whether it is amongst other parts of the body or by clothing. When wet skin rubs against each other, after a period of time the skin starts become irritated and create heat and inflammation, thus resulting in raw patches on the skin that eventually lightly scab over and then heal with time.  Remember, falling off your bike and “skinning” your knee or wrestling with your older brother and getting a “rug-burn” on your knee as a kid? Those skin injuries, although traumatic, can still provide visuals for you of the type of impact that can be seen on the skin and the pain that is experienced with chafing as a runner.

Who experiences chafing?

Anyone can experience chafing, but especially those who may have sensitive skin, as well as someone who participates in activities that increase skin that rubs together frequently or against irritating clothing for too long. Excessive moisture, as in those who sweat a lot or work in hot or humid environments are those at highest risk. This can include men and women of all ages, shapes, and sizes, those who walk, have manual jobs and, of course, runners and athletes. So basically anyone can experience chafing.

How does it chafing occur in running?

When running for prolonged distances, we become susceptible to skin irritation in some varying form of intensity and this all depends on the individual themselves. Several factors play into the roll of a runner experiencing chafing including: body shape, amount of sweat during a workout, the temperature and humidity of the running environment, certain fabrics and styles of clothing, as well as the distances being run. We already know that two surfaces rubbing together creates heat and friction, add on hours of running and increased sweat, you have yourself a strong recipe for disaster.

Where does one get chafing?

This varies for each individual person. Body shape, perspiration levels, temperatures and humidity, and clothing all play vital roles in where and how severe chaffing can occur. Common chafing problems for runners also vary by sex. Both males and females may experience chaffing under the armpits, on the collarbone, between the thighs, and between sensitive and delicate areas of the buttocks or genitals. Men runners, in particular, can get chafing on their nipples, while women may also experience chafing there in addition to the area of skin on the chest along their sports bra seams.

Is there a fool proof method to never have chafing? What can be done to prevent or help decrease it?

Unless you can change your body shape or running style to avoid any body part from completely touching each other while running naked in perfectly ideal weather, or be one of those lucky few who are blessed with non-chafing genetics, there is always a small chance it can happen to you. Ideally, mild, cool weather, clothing that is non-abrasive without seams such as moisture wicking gear or spandex, accompanied with a friction-less skin surface gel or cream are going to be your go-to safe practices to assist is chafing prevention, if you want to train for longer distances.

What are some examples of skin chaffing prevention creams, gels, and powders?

Cream based Petal Power, Chamous Butt’r, DZ Nuts, among others have been tested and positively reviewed as successful forms of prevention.  While brands like Body Glide, Nut Butter, MegaBabe come in non-greasy, stick forms that provide anti-chafing lubrication. Old-school Vasoline along with talcum or cornstarch body powders like Gold Bond can also reduce friction and absorb excess water, although often with only temporary results. Check out RunnerClick’s recommended 10 Best Anti-Chafing Creams & Sticks.