The Dreaded "C" Word
There aren’t many words that can bring a seasoned runner to her or his knee faster than the dreaded “C” word.
Just reading it makes me cringe.
If you’re fortunate to have not dealt with it this far in your running career, congratulations. And if you drew the short stick, as I did last weekend, let me pain be your knowledge gain. Chafing is awful. It is painful, it can be difficult to treat, it is often in unmentionable areas, and it can get infected.
Scared yet? Read on so as to better understand what causes it, what you can do to prevent it, and how you can respond if you have to deal with it.
Chafing is caused by skin rubbing against fabric or skin. While it can occur anywhere, it most frequently hits legs, groin, underarms and nipples. The key to preventing chafing? Prevent friction. Plain but not so simple.
Having coached for years, I’ve learned there is no easy solution. What works for one person’s skin might not work for another. For example, when I posed this question at a recent run meet-up, I heard responses ranging from hydration to special socks to different glides, lotions, and wipes. I’ll also add for those of us getting up in the years with bodies that might put on a little more padding, that chafing may arise in areas that were safe in the past. You can run in the same clothing week after week, yet a change in climate or physical movement can eek out enough of an abnormality to cause chafing.
Start by making sure you are dry, which means putting talcum or alum powder on and around your feet. Check seams on your clothing. Any bulky seams in and around the buttocks, between the legs, and under the arms may leave you wishing you had selected some other item of clothing.
If you can, look for clothing that fits well with moisture-wicking abilities. Those with synthetic fibers are highly recommended over cotton.
Great products have emerged on the market, like BodyGlide which comes in a deodorant type applicator that you can rub on a number of locations. Similarly, lanolin wipes like 2Toms SportShield make it easy to smooth the portable wipes in all of those unmentionable areas.
Make sure you’re covering all the important spots. While we’re at it, we should probably mention those unmentionables, including under the bra line, between “the cheeks,” and around the pubic area where clothing is snug or elastic is present.
As soon as your workout is over, get out of damp clothing as you may end up with chafing in random locations that you might not otherwise think of.
If you don’t catch it in time, heed this warning - DO NOT RUN ON IT UNTIL IT HAS HEALED. Yes, I speak from experience on this one. It is a really bad idea to run on chafed skin without treating it first. Really bad.
What you can do is begin a treatment to help heal quickly, realizing that your running may be put on a hold for quite a few days if the welts are severe enough. If you know you have areas that chafed during a run, before you go to the bathroom or shower, a word to the wise - vaseline. Apply it anywhere you feel chafing so as not to alarm the neighbors or family members when anything liquid hits it.
Wash the area daily and keep it clean.
Bacitrin or Neosporin creams are your best bets for healing and should be applied two to three times a day.
If the chafing can be further irritated by coming in contact with fabric, find a bandage large enough to cover the area without having adhesive coming into contact with raw skin.
Compression shorts can help keep bandages in place during the healing process if you want to resume your activity.
Try to let the area air out for a bit of time daily.
Avoid removing scabs before they are ready to come off naturally. This will help ensure the area heals well and doesn’t scar.
If the chafing isn’t healing, seek medical attention. I have had to do this a few times in the last few years and it can be a humbling experience. Go. Listen. Follow instructions. The last thing you want to do is further irritate skin that desperately needs to heal or deal with an infection that can really derail training.
Here’s to a great chafe-free season!