Run long enough and, sooner or later, you’ll have to stop, mid-run, to relieve an itchy leg.
Coming down with this one time is one thing, but having it several times during your runs is another thing.
Fret no more.
In today’s article, I’ll explain some of the main causes you feel itchy while running and what to do to treat and prevent it.
What Is A Runner Itch?
First things first, what’s an itch, and why it happens?
Technically known as pruritus, an itch is a general sensation caused by the irritation of skin cells or the nerves within the skin.
The itch may feel like a slightly electrical, burning sensation or like something is crawling along the skin.
More specifically, itching occurs when the nerve endings, known as proprioceptors, are activated by chemicals, temperature, infection, injury, or the body’s own immune response.
Upon stimulation, these proprioceptors send messages to your brain and spinal cord, which, in turn, trigger a rubbing or scratching reflex.
In most cases, the moment you scratch the affected area, you interfered with these nerve signals, providing immediate relief.
Although uncomfortable, itching serves a key sensory and self-protection role and a warning sign of an abnormal physical condition, as do other skin sensations such as pain, touch, cold, heat, and vibration.
So, what is a runner’s itch?
A runner’s itch is generally a tingling or itchy sensation that strikes runners. In most cases, the uncomfortable sensation slowly moves up the legs while logging the miles.
In some cases, the itching may be so extreme that you have to stop and scratch, which messes up the flow of your workout. The itching may also stride during intense cardio training and can spread beyond the legs. This is really, really annoying.
Fortunately, it’s often the case that a runner’s itch isn’t a cause for concern. In fact, there are many simple steps you can take right now to treat and prevent it without much hassle.
But first things first, let’s take a look at what’s causing workout itchiness in the first place.
The Causes Of Runners Itch
There are many causes of the itchy feeling on the skin when running.
Let’s discuss a few
Taking Running Again
Let’s take a look at what happens to your body.
While working out, your heart rate is increased for a sustained period in order to transfer oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. This forces the arteries and capillaries in your muscles to expand.
This is what’s known as vasodilation, a process by which blood vessels open up and expand to allow for more blood to come through.
Here’s the downside. Vasolidation causes a sensation that your brain perceives as itchiness.
Fortunately, if you can push through the discomfort, the itchiness usually fades away as you build more endurance
Runners who have naturally dry skin or get drier skin in the cold season are prone to itchiness.
Also, taking too many showers, or soaking in a hot bath, may strip your skin of some of the natural oils that keep it moist, setting the stage for itchiness. The loss of moisture in your skin is the reason that makes it prone to irritation from contact, which leads to itchiness.
Often, the itching can simply be caused by something as simple as an allergic reaction to clothing material or laundry detergent and perfume with high alcohol ingredients.
You might not feel itchy during normal use, but sweating can exacerbate the reaction and cause serious itching.
Clothing dermatitis is another common reason for itchiness. This is especially the case if you start noticing your itching problems just after trying a new running outfit.
Dermatitis occurs when the skin reacts badly to the fibers in the clothing as well as to the resin, dyes, and other chemicals used to treat what you wear.
Any type of fiber may trigger an itch, but you’re more likely to get textile dermatitis from material made with synthetic fibers such as rayon, polyester, spandex, nylon, or rubber. These fabrics may not breathe as well as natural fibers, making you sweat more, which, in turn, makes itching worse.
Histamine is a substance produced by the body and is typically associated with itching, allergic reactions, and inflammation. The substance works to expand your blood vessels, which the brain reads as a sign of itchiness.
Here’s the kicker. Recent research has suggested that exercise may trigger the release of histamine to protect against fatigue instead of just being an allergic reaction.
To check for this, try taking an antihistamine before running to see if it helps with the itchy leg. Be careful because some antihistamines may cause drowsiness.
Exercise-induced urticaria is a type of allergic reaction that strikes when you come down with itchiness along with hives or tenderness of the skin.
This common allergic phenomenon can be triggered by sweating, extreme heat or cold, or exercising.
It occurs during or after hard exercise, especially when the train in hot or cold weather with dry humidity.
Other symptoms include
- Stomach cramps
- Swelling of the hands, face, or tongue
- Difficulty breathing.
How To Treat
The causes of a runner’s itch may vary from something as simple as irritating workout gear to a serious skin condition that you might not be aware of.
That all being said, soothing itching legs while running may take you a little trial and error.
All in all, keeping a consistent running routine while taking some of the preventative measures shared below is the best way to stop runners’ itch and reduce their frequency/intensity.
Avoid Skin Irritants
As I explained earlier, there are many things that can irritate your skin and causes itchiness. You might not feel itchy on a normal day, but then you go for a run, and you find yourself having to stop every few minutes to scratch the itchiness away.
Some of the common irritators to avoid include:
- Use The Right Detergent – Choose a gentler detergent. I’d recommend a naturally made product or a sensitive skin brand that helps soothe itching.
- Use Mild Soap When Showering – Your soap should work with you, not against you. Choose a gentle, mild soap. This might not be what you like, but it’s a step in the right way for preventing itchy legs while running.
- Hand soap – Use brands that contain moisturizers to help prevent your skin from getting dry.
- Go natural, less alcohol, less paraben
Warm up Properly
If the itchy feeling is caused by a sudden return to exercise, make sure to start your runs with a proper warm-up. This helps get your blood flowing and increases body temperature before you pick up the pace.
Check my full dynamic warm-up routine here.
Use A Moisturizer
More than likely, dry skin is the reason behind your itchiness, so use a moisturizer and lotion to help restore some oils to your skin.
Apply the moisturizer to your legs as well as other itch-prone areas before you go running. Just remember to avoid products that contain dyes or perfumes, as some of these may trigger allergic itching in some people. If you feel moisturizer still too thick for you, shoot for coconut oil.
Stay Well Hydrated
It should come as no surprise, but proper hydration is key for optimum athletic performance. You have to stay well hydrated to run your best—or else, your performance will be subpar.
That’s not the whole story. Staying well hydrated also has an impact on your skin. That’s the reason when your body lacks water, your skin may look dull and sallow.
So drink plenty of water throughout the day—not just during and after your runs. Here’s the full guide to proper running hydration.
Is Itchiness While Running Dangerous?
Experiencing itchiness while running isn’t a call for concern.
But if it persists despite taking some of the preventative measures, consult your doctor. They might help you get at the root cause of your itchiness and find if there are some other factors, such as food allergy, behind your workout itching episodes.
This is especially the case if the itchy feeling is accompanied by
- Hives that strike along with severe pain or burning that don’t fade within a few minutes
- Difficulty breathing.
Are you still feeling itchy? Consult a dermatologist to be checked for skin disease or an internal medicine physician to be evaluated for other diseases. Cover all bases.
In most cases, runner’s itch is an annoying, mostly temporary, problem that isn’t anything to worry about.
You can soothe the itchy feeling by running regularly, avoiding triggers and skin irritants, and keeping your skin healthy.