Thigh Chafing From Running
Chafing sounds like no big deal. A little bit of irritation, that’s all… right?
Well, yes and no… because chafing can really hurt. Think of the pain chafing from a new pair of shoes can cause! And while chafing is something we all experience at one time or another, you certainly don’t want it to be a regular by-product of your favorite activity.
Whether you’re a leisurely jogger or a marathon-runner, chafing is something worth avoiding. If you’re a performance athlete, any little discomfort can impact your performance. And even if you’re not, it can still cause distracting pain and discomfort. Who wouldn’t want to avoid that?
What Is Inner Thigh Chafing?
So what is thigh chafing? It’s really all about friction. As you move the skin of your inner thighs rub against each other. When this repeats over and over, it can create friction which causes the skin to become red and irritated.
Chafing can also happen when your inner thighs rub against clothing, especially badly placed seams on clothing.
Because the skin of the inner thighs is particularly delicate, chafing can happen quickly. And once the skin is irritated, it will only worsen if you keep going - not exactly convenient if you’re out for a long distance run or hike.
Sweat Exacerbates Chafing
Unfortunately for athletes, sweat (a natural and healthy by-product of exercise) exacerbates chafing. This is because sweat contains salt and as the sweat evaporates it leaves tiny salt crystals on the skin, which causes further friction and worsens chafing.
Of course, everybody sweats different amounts. Factors that impact how much you sweat include:
- How many sweat glands you have (the average person has 3 million but it can range between 2 million and 4 million. The more glands, the more sweat).
- Fitness level
If you remove hair from the thighs it can also contribute to chafing. Depending on your hair removal method, you might experience stubble upon regrowth. This can start or worsen the irritation that occurs when running.
Other Places Runners Can Experience Chafing
Chafing is (unfortunately) not confined to the thighs for many people, including runners. Common body areas for runners to experience chafing include:
- Feet (especially heels and toes). This can occur because your running shoes don’t fit correctly or because feet become wet and sweaty.
- Armpits: Similar to the repetitive movement of the legs, the movement of the arms can cause chafing in the armpits or along the inner arms (it will depend on your running form and where your body comes into contact).
- Around the bust: While a sports bra usually protects nipples from chafing (something men can experience), sports bras can themselves cause chafing. This can occur if they’re ill-fitting or under the bust where sweat can sometimes collect.
But it’s worth noting that chafing can occur anywhere on the body that experiences friction from the repetitive movement of running or any other exercise.
Why Do Runners Experience Thigh Chafing While Running?
Runners in particular experience chafing because they are repeating certain movements over and over again — often over long distances and strenuous conditions. Because running is a high impact form of exertion it usually causes a lot of sweat, which we’ve already discovered exacerbates chafing.
The final factor that connects running and chafing is the type of clothing runners sometimes wear. Especially in the summer, runners often wear light shorts and vests, which exposes their skin. While this helps them stay cool, it also means that more skin surface is exposed to rub against other skin and cause friction, and ultimately chafing.
It is worth noting that chafing can happen to runners of all sizes and shapes. Sensitive skin will make you more vulnerable to chafing, and so will a body shape that results in more skin coming in contact.
But most runners find that chafing is something they want to protect themselves against, both to safeguard performance, help them enjoy their workout, and so there’s little recovery time from their run.
How Do I Stop My Thighs Chafing When I Run?
It goes without saying that it would be nicer to prevent chafing from happening altogether rather than waiting for it to heal. The good news is there are a number of things you can do to prevent chafing when you run:
Let's count down 6 things you can do to prevent chafing while running:
1. Wear Tight, Moisture-Wicking Fabrics
Running shorts are often loose to allow the air to circulate around the body, but loose shorts can mean that your skin comes into the kind of repeat contact that we want to avoid. Moreover, loose shorts can mean seams also rub against thighs, and this can itself cause friction and irritation.
Instead, opt for tighter performance gear like compression shorts. These will ensure the skin is covered and there is little movement in the fabric. It’s essential to ensure that the shorts cover the parts of your body that come into contact, so pay attention to where your thighs meet when running and judge the length you require from that.
In addition, pay attention to:
- The short material: It should be moisture-wicking so you don’t feel clammy
- Where the seams sit: They should be off-centre so they don’t cause chafing either
2. …Or Wear Thigh Savers Under Your Shorts
If you really love your loose shorts, try wearing anti-chafe underwear beneath them, like Knix Thigh Savers. These include moisture wicking to help manage sweat.
You can also try Leakproof Underwear that’s designed to absorb up to 8 tsp of liquid (be it sweat, blood or urine). Most importantly, it locks that moisture away from the body to help control odor, irritation and discomfort.
3. Try (Non-Talc) Powders to Absorb Sweat
If sweat is a major concern for you, moisture-absorbing powders can help keep the groin, thighs and other body areas (like feet) dry.
Look for non-talc all-natural products with ingredients like kaolin or cornstarch to absorb moisture. Other ingredients, like aloe and lavender can cool, soothe and have antibacterial properties.
Note: Talcum powder may increase risk of ovarian and uterine cancer, so avoid using this type of powder in the genital area. (source)
4. Use Lotion to Help the Skin ‘Glide’
There are specialty running products as well as general thigh-chafing topical treatments to help the skin ‘glide’. These range from Vaseline or coconut oil (beloved by some of my most devout running friends) to specialty products like anti-chafing sticks, like Super Glide.
Like any topical product, it may take some time to find the one that’s right for you. It’s worth noting that not all of these products will be suitable for the sensitive groin area — stick with the inner thighs.
5. Review Your Hair Removal Method
If you have inner thigh stubble, ingrown hairs or other irritation caused by your hair removal method, it can worsen chafing. While all hair removal methods have their pros and cons, it might be worth re-evaluating your method if it’s causing or contributing to chafing.
6. Stay Hydrated
The salt content of your sweat will be higher if you’re dehydrated. Not to mention, a hydrated body will perform better in general. So always bring plenty of hydration on your runs and make sure you’re regularly replenishing.
How Do I Treat Inner Thigh Chafing?
We don’t always manage to prevent chafing… if it has already happened, you’re probably in more immediate need of relief. The bad news is that it’s really best to take a break from running until the skin has had a chance to heal. In addition to letting the skin cool and relax, try the following to treat chafing:
Using Mild Cleansers
This is not a time for body scrubs, scalding hot water or aggressive towel-drying. Irritated skin needs to be left alone as much as possible to calm down. Use mild cleansers to ensure the area is clean and gently pat the skin to dry.
Moisturize Your Chafed Skin to Soothe
To soothe the skin and help it heal, try applying a light layer (don’t slather it on) of petroleum jelly, like trusty old Vaseline (petroleum jelly). Some people also have success with baby’s diaper rash creams.
Protect Your Thighs from Further Irritation
Change into clothing that creates a physical barrier between your thighs. Try wearing anti-chafing shorts during the day so you don’t further exacerbate the irritation Irritation can often become a lot more... irritating at night. So swap your nightdress for PJs or cotton leggings so your thighs aren’t in contact while you’re trying to doze off.
When to See a Doctor
While painful, a little bit of chafing is generally nothing to worry about and will heal itself if not further exacerbated.
However, keep an eye on the area because there’s always a risk of infection when skin is torn. Here are some signs that you might want to schedule a doctor’s visit:
- A wound open up and doesn’t scab over in a few days (assuming it’s not further exacerbated)
- You notice blood or pus coming from a chafing wound
- The skin is very hot or swollen
- Redness spreads beyond the point of chafing
The good news is that chafing rarely warrants a visit to the doctor and now that you know how to prevent chafing in the first place, you’ll hopefully avoid a repeat incident. Here’s to chafe-free runs!