When you do a lot of running, and interact with other runners, the subject of injuries can crop up lamentably often. Most of the time, especially for the long distance people, the chatter is all about terrible blisters, or sore muscles. Other fairly common problems which crop up are more serious, such as ankle, knee or hip pains, which should all be looked into to find out the causes and correct them. But one ‘injury’ is hardly ever talked about but is surprisingly common, albeit a little unusual – runner’s nipple. Also known by a variety of other name’s such as jogger’s nipple, or whichever sport you happen to be into (eg. surfer’s nipple, weightlifter’s nipple etc) this is a pretty irritating and painful problem to run into.
Runner’s nipple is caused by chafing of this sensitive area by loose fitting clothing and male runners are particularly prone to it, mainly because the ladies wear protection such as a sports bra, but also because men generally tend to sweat more profusely than women (of course, nipple chafe is a problem which some women who breastfeed can be prone to also). In mild cases, the result of this chafing is slight soreness or dryness of the skin; but in other cases, especially for runners who cover distances longer than 10K, bleeding can result.
In my early days of running, I started to suffer from this affliction, mainly on longer runs in hot weather. Not too surprising really as I was sweating more than I would have on a cold day. It is also something which can crop up rather unexpectedly on short runs if you are an all-weather runner, and carry on pounding the roads in pouring rain. Again, this has happened to me and caught me off guard in the past. The obvious question is: is there anything I can do to prevent this, as it can be a major pain and takes days to heal up?
Runner’s Nipple Prevention
1. Wear Appropriate Technical Clothing
Perhaps the easiest thing you can do to prevent chafing is to invest in some really good running kit. The worst thing you can do is wear a regular cotton t-shirt to go for long sessions. These very rapidly become soaked in sweat as you exert yourself, and then you may as well get your nipples out and start grinding away at them with salty sandpaper. It is far better to spend a little more to get your hands on a moisture wicking technical running top. These will transport sweat away from your skin and towards the outer surface of the fabric, where it can evaporate away. So they’re fantastic for training in mild and warm weather.
Remember the title of this section is appropriate technical clothing. I have found to my detriment that evaporation of sweat doesn’t work very effectively to keep you dry when you end up jogging in driving rain! And with a waterlogged shirt, you are back to square one. So in rain, wear your technical top, and also a waterproof outer layer, preferably one which also allows moisture out, so that your skin can be kept dry, to protect your sensitive bits from chafing.
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2. More About Ideal Clothing
There are two factors to consider: the first is keeping your skin dry, and the second is preventing your skin from being rubbed aggressively during exercise. Decent technical clothing is great for keeping you dry, and that should be enough to fend off jogger’s nipple. But if you get caught out by the weather, and don’t have waterproofs with you on a run, then you could be at risk. In this case, a belt and braces approach is to wear a base layer underneath your technical top, which is essentially skin tight, so that it does not rub and cause the friction which results in chafing.
There are many claims made of compression clothing, the majority concerned with performance during and recovery after strenuous exercise. However, a good compression top will be great as a barrier against your normal running shirt, even if it gets wet.
The other option if the law permits it where you are, and also if the weather is amenable, is to run topless! After all, if it’s the shirt rubbing your skin that causes all the aggravation, why bother wearing one at all.
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3. Barrier Products
There are several ways you can construct a barrier between your sensitive skin and your training top. The one I have used for ages (before my recent shift towards compression tops) is plain Vaseline. A big blob of it on each nipple, and you’re good to go. I even used to keep blobs of Vaseline in cling film in my running shorts in case I needed to ‘top up’ during a long run.
Of course, there is the problem of all the mess when using tons of Vaseline, and whether it will ruin your nice trendy technical top. So there is a solution, which is to use a slightly more professional (and expensive) non-greasy product such as the BodyGlide anti-chafing stick. This is better than Vaseline as it lets the skin breathe and sweat escape, so it can form a good temporary barrier.
The final option is a physical barrier, and you could opt for the ones designed specifically for runners called Nipguards, or choose the cheaper general spot bandages for sensitive skin, for example the ones made by Curad. They are products which you stick onto your nipples prior to running, like circular mini band-aids.
If you are somebody who is prone to getting chafed when running, especially on the nipples, but also other areas, it is worth experimenting for yourself with a few of these products to see which is best for you. For example, you might find that the physical barriers such as Curad spot bandages or Nipguards fall off too easily if you get really hot and sweaty during your workouts.
I know for me, cheap and cheerful Vaseline was (and is) always fine in dry weather and with a proper technical top. In rain, Vaseline washes away and the only way to go is compression base layers, as I get too hot in waterproof running jackets (unless there’s snow on the ground!)
So good luck with your choice, and here’s to many miles of chafe-free running ahead!