What is Runner's Itch?
Running increases your heart rate and blood flow as your heart delivers more blood and oxygen to the targeted muscles. This causes your capillaries and arteries to expand and stimulates your nerve cells, which can lead to an itchy sensation. This is called Runner's Itch in common language. Every runner feels this once in a while. The causes of itchy legs vary from something as simple as a skin reaction to your workout gear or an allergic response within the body. Regardless of the cause, finding relief for intensely itching legs will take a little trial and error.
Why Do Runners Get Itchy Legs?
If you’ve ever run so far that your legs swell and you feel an uncomfortable burning sensation, you’ve experienced the notorious itchy legs. While running can be a great full-body workout, this uncomfortable condition may ensue if you don’t practice proper hydration and nutrition.
Runners should be aware of its causes and ways to avoid it as it can be annoying.
Dehydration or lack of electrolytes in your body can be a reason for itchy legs. Electrolytes are essential because they help your body absorb water and keep the mineral balance of your body in check.
The most important electrolytes when it comes to rehydrating yourself are sodium, potassium, and chloride. If you don’t replace lost electrolytes properly, they can lead to some unpleasant situations.
Causes of Itchy Legs
Dry skin is a common problem in winter, and it can present itself in many different ways. Apart from the usual dryness, it can also become painful, itchy or flaky, and cracked or chapped.
For runners, the pain and itchiness can be unbearable at times. Some people mistake it for blisters due to inflammation and redness. If you put on a moisturizer and feel improvement, dry skin is the culprit for runners itching.
Your skin is the medium for much of the body's immune response. The skin recognizes and reacts to bacterial antigens, foreign molecules, and environmental irritants the same way as the rest of the body.
When our skin is dry, it loses some of its normal barrier and immune defense mechanisms. This leaves it susceptible to irritation, chafe, and infections. Dry air, having zero humidity adds to the situation. Change in environmental conditions improves the runner's itch.
At times the fabric is causing itching. Maybe you’ve never had a problem with itching before, but it’s been terrible since you got new leggings (or shorts) that you have been wearing a lot. If the fabric is irritating your legs and causing you to itch, the solution is simple, stop using the culprit fabric.
Getting into Running
Getting into running is a great idea. It’s not only a great form of exercise but also boosts the metabolism, reduces the risk of disease and improves mental health and opens up your capillaries.
One piece of advice for new runners who are just starting, be sure to start slowly. Allow your body time to adjust to the running routine. If you have been sedentary and have no prior experience with running, expect to have runner's itch. It takes time and training to build up endurance and make your capillaries stay open for longer. The best thing you can do to get the itching to stop is to keep running and know that it will go away soon once you’ve gotten back into a routine.
Itching, burning, and swelling is normal during a run, and sweating can make itching worse. If you’re someone who sweats a lot, this also could be a reason for your runner's itching. But if the symptoms worsen or become unbearable, it’s time to see a doctor.
Why is Runner's Itch Worse in the Winter?
When you exercise, your blood vessels dilate, and your body temperature rises. In the summer, heat loss through evaporation is the main form of cooling, but the air is much colder in the winter, and heat loss occurs from air conduction and heat radiation. This causes the skin to dehydrate and get dry till it starts itching.
Check humidity in your area for a particular day to see if you’re more likely to experience a runners' itch.
Dry air in the winter leads to dehydration. You know that you need water in the summer, but you don’t feel the same need in the winter, and there’s a good chance you are dehydrated.
If you must do a long-distance race or run in cold temperatures, it can be a good idea to wear a special heat-retaining pair of pants.
If this doesn’t help you, you may want to consider buying a pair of compression socks or tights, which enhance blood flow to your legs while you exercise and keep you warm.
How Can I Stop Runner's Itch?
The good news is that you can stop runner's stitch in a variety of different ways. Once you’ve isolated the cause that is most applicable to you, pick the solution that will best fix that problem. First and foremost, try your best to resist scratching as long as possible, as scratching worsens the condition.
Do a Good Warm-Up Before Running
Healthy and well-prepared muscles are the best defense against the runner's itch. You should do a thorough warm-up at the beginning of each running session by starting slowly and building up speed and distance.
A good 5, 10, or even 20-minute warm-up before a run makes a huge difference. A good warm-up will get your blood flowing before running and hopefully help with that need to itch once you get started on your run.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
The very first thing you can do is drink plenty of water. Most runners don’t drink enough fluids. Many don’t even carry a water bottle with them during their runs. They believe they are more likely to slow down during their run if they carry a water bottle.
Drinking water can help prevent or stop runner’s itch by reducing the concentration of uric acid in the body. Any build-up of acidic elements in the body can cause skin irritation, manifesting as an itchy feeling.
Fluids, especially water, help shrink the amount of uric acid and help flush it out of the body and clear out any built-up toxins and waste products.
By drinking plenty of water, you are helping prevent toxins from building up and causing the irritation and itchiness associated with runner's itch.
Well-hydrated people tend to be able to push longer than those who are dehydrated but also their skin is not dry and prone to runner's itch that much. So make sure you find a way to carry enough water with you to hydrate your body adequately.
Use a Moisturizer
One way to eliminate a runner's itch problem is to use a moisturizing cream specifically designed to alleviate itching.
You can apply it to the spots affected by the chafing, and you will find a noticeable improvement within several days. The moisturizing cream will help keep the chafed skin smooth and relaxed so that it doesn’t cause any further irritation.
Use a Mild Soap When Showering
The next time you are in the shower, make sure to wash with mild unscented soap. Suave and Dove both make excellent scented and unscented soap.
Also, make sure that the water temperature is not too hot because really hot water can increase the itching.
It is also a good idea to apply a gentle skin moisturizer after you exit the shower. This will help soothe the itchy skin and also leave it with a nice clean, soft feeling.
Don’t Shower So Much
First off, you should know that runner’s itch is not contagious. Taking a shower more than once will take away the natural body oil, making your skin drier and more prone to runner's itch. Make this a regular habit or showering once a day with water and mild soap at a moderate temperature.
Shave (Even in the Winter)
Yes, ladies, you’ll need to shave even in the winter. It might seem like a hassle because you aren’t going to wear shorts, but sometimes itching can be due to the stubble on your legs from not shaving in the winter.
So, consider doing a quick shave in the winters too to keep your legs from itching.
Use a Mild Laundry Detergent
If you’ve tried all the precautions mentioned above to avoid runner's itch, but nothing seems to work for you, you might consider changing your laundry detergent to something gentler and milder. If your clothing is softer and smoother, it might irritate your legs less.
If you are out of practice, be ready to hit the runner's itch badly. Just keep it up with running and exercising. Otherwise, you’re going to deal with itching legs all winter every time you decide to run, and it’s just going to be uncomfortable.
The fact that you are reading this post probably means that you are desperately seeking some help and you might have tried a couple of precautions to avoid runner's itch but still suffering.
The one solution is to adjust your diet. You will be amazed at how your body will react to some simple diet changes.
No Dairy, Sugar, and Salt – these 3 ingredients can cause the itch.
Try to include fresh fruits and veggies in your diet. Because of having them every day, the itch will slowly disappear.
If you’re on a fat-free diet, you’re missing out on the healthy fats you need to combat dryness, so consider adding some healthy fats to your diet. And don’t forget about rubbing some coconut oil directly on your legs. The chances are that your runner's itch will almost immediately disappear.
In the end, runners itch is frustrating and annoying and might have impacted a couple of your runs. But it is preventable if you figure out what is causing your specific runner's itch. Don’t fight through the pain if you don’t have to!