What You Need to Know About Runner's Nipple

When you run, your clothes rub against your skin with each movement. The repeated friction may lead to chafing, especially on areas of the body that have the most contact — like your thighs and nipples.

Understanding Runner's Nipple

Runner's nipple is a very common injury, especially for those who go on longer runs. Chafing may cause your nipples to feel raw or even bleed.

Runner's nipple happens at all times of the year. In winter, the cold may make your nipples stand up, which makes the condition more likely. In the summer, extra sweating may make things worse.

Risks of Runner's Nipple

Any time you have an open wound on your body, you have a greater chance of infections and rashes. If bacteria enter the open sores on your nipples, your condition may get worse instead of better.

Moisture from sweating can also lead to a fungal infection of the irritated nipple. This is caused by excess yeast. Signs of a bacterial or fungal infection include:

  • Redness around the nipple
  • Heat radiating from a wound on the nipple
  • Swelling or inflammation
  • Persistent irritation‌
  • Rash that spreads from the nipple

Preventing Runner's Nipple

The good news is, you can easily treat and prevent runner's nipple. If you develop runner's nipple after going for a run, clean the area thoroughly to prevent infection. Use a mild soap and warm water to prevent irritation. Harsher chemicals and hot water aren’t a good idea when cleaning runner's nipple.

Pat your chest dry and then use ointment or petroleum jelly to protect the wounds. You might apply gauze or bandages to provide more protection. This also prevents the ointment from getting onto your clothes.

Go shopping. If you’re an avid runner, the right shirts can make a huge difference in your comfort while you run. Cotton shirts are more likely to cause irritation because they hold moisture. Look for a moisture-wicking material.

Make sure your shirt is fitted to your body, so the fabric doesn’t move against your skin as much. A tighter fit means less friction against your nipples, preventing runner's nipple from happening. If you don’t like the look of a tight shirt, put your regular t-shirt on over a moisture-wicking option.

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Use bandages. Placing bandages or athletic tape over your nipples adds an extra barrier of protection. The bandages won’t move, so fabric against your skin doesn’t cause irritation. Keep in mind that adhesive may irritate your skin, so make sure you aren’t allergic to the adhesive before using it.‌‌

To prevent adhesive from getting onto your nipples and areola, put a small square of gauze against your skin with adhesive around it. Keep in mind that sweating may loosen the adhesive of some bandages, so choose a product that is waterproof if possible.

Anti-chafing products. There are creams and roll-on applications that may help protect your nipples during a run. These products are similar in consistency to deodorant and serve as a thin barrier between your nipples and your clothes.

If your skin irritation persists, talk to your doctor. It is possible that you have an underlying medical condition that leaves your skin more susceptible to irritation.

Chafing on Other Parts of the Body

Irritation to your nipples isn’t the only chafing condition affecting runners. Chafing can occur anywhere your skin rubs together or your clothes rub against your body. Common chafing areas include:

  • Heels
  • Thighs
  • Armpits‌
  • Waistband or bra band area 

If your skin chafes, it may be red and raw. You may hurt or have a stinging, burning sensation. You can prevent chafing by taking a few steps to prepare for your run and recover afterward.‌

Wear clothes that fit correctly. Clothes that are too tight or too loose can both cause irritation. This includes waistbands, sleeves, and socks. Your clothes should also be clean and dry before a run. Damp or already-worn clothes may introduce bacteria to your skin, leading to additional chafing.

If your shoes are too tight or loose, they can irritate your feet and heels. Make sure that your shoes dry between runs and tighten your laces completely for each run.

‌Before you go for a run, apply anti-chafing cream or powder to problem areas. After your run, change your clothes and shoes. If possible, shower right away. If you notice clothes that cause problems, don’t wear them again.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 27, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

American Family Physician: “Skin and Wound Infections: An Overview.” 

Cleveland Clinic: “What’s ‘Jogger’s Nipple’ and How Can You Avoid It?”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Running for health: Even a little bit is good, but a little more is probably better.”

Ochsner Health: “Chafing: How to prevent it, how to treat it, ” “How to Avoid Nipple Chafing While Running.”   

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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