Chafing-Causes & Cures

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chafing causes and cures

I am yet to meet a runner or a rider who has not experienced chafing in some form or the other. Many although are not able to identify it and consider it as a skin rash or infection not attributing it to running or cycling. Chafing may seem to be a minor issue but it can be quite painful. If not treated properly, it can derail your training and make even day-to-day things worse. 

What is chafing?

Chafing is simply irritation to the skin caused by friction. It is of two types: skin-on-skin and fabric-on-skin. The friction is enough to cause severe rash, blisters, or peel off upper skin exposing raw skin. Severe chafing can restrict one’s simple movements too.

Why it occurs

Wherever we have repetitive movement causing friction, chafing will occur. This is more common in long-distance running and cycling. As mentioned above, friction between two surfaces causes an increase in temperature and inflammation of the skin where it is occurring. If the motion continues, one can start losing the upper layer of skin or increase in skin rash or blisters. Few factors which may cause chafing are:-

  • Excessive sweating due to hot or humid weather.
  • Skin sensitivity 
  • Extra fat in certain areas
  • Overweight
  • Non-breathable clothing
  • Muscle grown enough to cause friction between two surfaces.
  • Ill-fitting clothes

Signs of chafing while running

You will start having a sense of warmness or hot skin in that area. It may also start with a little itching especially if it is fabric-based chafing. If one doesn’t stop or take preventive actions at this stage, soon one will start feeling pain in the area similar to raw skin exposure. Further, no action taken can lead to severe pain, bleeding, and inflammation in the surrounding area leading to restrictive movement of the area facing chafing. 

How to prepare for a run to avoid chafing

Most runners are aware of the areas of concern as the area may vary from runner to runner however some simple tricks are as under:-

  • Apply lubrication which can be various lubrication gels such as Body Glide etc. However petroleum jelly or Vaseline does an equally good job. Remember to be gentle while applying lubrication and do this for the complete area. 
  • Avoid cotton or other clothes which hold sweat. This increases fabric friction leading to chafing. 
  • Proper fit clothing is important especially sports bra or briefs. If too tight they can simply dig into the skin causing skin irritation. If loose, they simply rub the skin causing irritation and erosion.  
  • Avoid clothes that have stitching and labels in areas where you do not want them. Prefer seamless and tagless clothing. Removing a label may not be sufficient because very often it leaves threads and parts of the label inside the stitching of the cloth. 
  • Using the right underwear is very important. There are shorts that come with built-in briefs. These may suit many but not all. There are underwears that are made of anti-chafing fabric, behave like compression clothing, or are longer than shorts thus covering required areas. So one must figure out what suits best.
  • Running packs, vest, mobile band, or waist belt if bounces or shifts repeatedly can be a serious concern of chafing. Ensure that movement of these while running is minimized. 

Actions if chaffing occurs during a run

  • If you have started feeling chafing happening but cannot or do not want to stop the run, you must take certain actions so that on finishing the run the situation is not worse
  • Stop for a while and check the area. If it is skin-on-skin, apply lubrication in a wider area in sufficient quantity. If it is fabric-on-skin, immediately put water on the area. If it is possible to change your clothing, do that, If you cannot do that, then ensure it is not causing friction. This you can do by folding the cloth so that it doesn’t touch the skin. You can also tie a lace or other cloth over it so that the excessive movement causing chafing is stopped. 
  • You may have to slow down a bit. Do that and try to change the motion in the area suffering from chafing. 
  • Use a piece of cloth and put it in between two layers causing friction.
  • Remove the pack or clothing if possible which is covering irritated skin. Leave the skin open to dry.

Action on chafing after the run

If you have run despite chafing or have discovered uncomfortable feeling after your run, you should do the following to cure chafing:-

  • Do not take shower with hot water. Use lukewarm water.
  • Clear the area properly and use antiseptic liquid if required.
  • Ensure no further rubbing or friction happens in that area.
  • Treat chafing like a skin rash or a skin burn.
  • Avoid running or cycling till fully cured. 
  • See a doctor if bleeding has occurred or there are signs of infection 

Areas of concern for chafing

  • The thigh is an area for skin-on-skin rubbing. One can use lubricant sufficiently applied to your inner things. Ensure clothing prevents such friction by rightly choosing fabric, length, and size of shorts, inner layering, etc.
  • The Groin area is also sensitive to skin-on-skin chafing. Lubrication is the best solution to it. One must avoid too tight clothes so that skin is allowed to move away during movement in this area. 
  • Nipple chafing is very common to both men and women. There are upper garments now available in the market as an anti-chafing response. One can also simply cover the nipples using a micropore tape or a Band-Aid. 
  • Sports bra support area generally is a concern in women runners. This can also be prevented by simply choosing a properly fitting sports bra. 
  • Armpits are a big area of concern when it comes to skin-on-skin chafing. Make sure that upper wear fits properly. Also, either have long hair or make it completely clean before running. 
  • Pack areas are many. They can easily be prevented by using a correct pack, strapping, and fitness. 

Article by : Capt Jitender Harjai Fitness expert and Ultra Mrathon Runner H2F Care

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