Finishing a run to find your face flushed, totally normal. But what about when you find yourself with itchy legs while running? It’s so common, it even has a name: runner’s itch.
There are a number of reasons why we get this annoying issue and we’re going to help you quickly find a solution!
Just like running with allergies, this is going to take a little more thought some days than others.
What is Runner’s Itch?
It’s a nagging sensation while running that you need to reach down and scratch your leg. It’s a combo of a little tingling and a little burning, that has a number of known causes and potential solutions!
Not to be confused with another itch in a another location. That’s a whole different ballgame, you’ll need tips for elsewhere.
The symptoms are pretty easy to spot:
- area may appear slightly read
- occasionally hives or a rash will appear (see notes below)
As your heart rate rises, there is increased blood flow which can lead to irritation.
Let’s dive in to what’s happening and see if any of these ideas will help you resolve the issue. It may be a random occurrence for you based on weather or something that happens more consistently.
Why do My Legs Itch When I Run?
Runner’s itch is rarely an issue that requires medical attention, but if you’ve ruled out all the potential causes and come back to a skin issue, don’t hesitate to chat with your Dr about a prescription cream or lotion to help. Running shouldn’t hurt!
Let’s talk about the main causes of runner itch and then dive in to what we can do!
Dr. Jordan Metzel says that there’s no particularly great reason why some runners experience it more than others. But unlike side stitches, it’s not something that gets better the longer you’ve been a runner.
However, other medical doctors from UPMC have said that for new runners it could actually be more of an issue and one that will get better. This is because when we start to run capillaries expand to allow for the increased flow and to get more oxygen to our muscles.
But newer runners bodies aren’t as adept at this process, which means some of those vessels may close down and the result is itchiness.
If you generally have sensitive skin, then it’s possible you’ll be more prone to itchy legs.
As you start running, blood is being pushed to the surface of the skin regulate body temperature and as you sweat that salt is now laying on top of the skin. The combination of the two is often enough to trigger those with more sensitive skin.
You may also find that wearing a certain lotion, which blocks the skin from fully releasing heat or traps allergens in the air can make things worse.
**FUN FACT: That stubble from unshaven legs, could contribute to this itch as it rubs against your running tights!!
Called a histamine response or exercise-induced urticaria is another common cause based on this 2017 study.
As noted above when your body suddenly increases circulation through skin, blood vessels and sweat to help your body maintain a good temperature, it releases chemicals.
For some people, the body responds with hives and itchiness. If you find this to be the case consistently, you could start to take an over the counter allergy medicine daily.
I recommend not taking antihistamines immediately before a workout as we have seen some data to indicate it can make breathing feel harder. But taking it at the same time daily, will give you the full impact of the anti-histamine.
Get more tips for running with allergies >>
Hot Weather Issues
Ok we have two that are specific to overheating and being exposed to long hours of sunlight.
Exercise-induced vasculitis is often referred to as hiker’s rash and will be accompanied by visible red areas and possibly even purple spots. It’s more intense and painful than just a normal itch. That being said, it’s still not something to worry about most times and will resolve on it’s own.
Exercise-induced purpura, according to one dermatological study, appears mostly on the lower leg and is more common for marathon runners. These purple itchy areas, will fade within a few days, as will the burning and itching.
With heat it is always important to note that if these are accompanied by nausea or vomiting, you need to seek immediate medical attention as it’s possible you’re having a heat stroke.
Dry Weather Issues
This is the one that I deal with most often living and running through the Colorado winters. My legs are absolutely fine one minute and the next I want to rip the skin off.
This is due largely to dehydration. Personally, my internal levels of hydration are on point, but I can’t get my skin to soak up enough moisture with 10% in the air!
How do I Stop Itching During Exercise?
Ok let’s put an end to your itchy legs while walking and running. As a running coach, I’ve worked with thousands of runners in the last decade and thus their input is helping us find any idea for you.
A few potential ideas to help stop runner’s itch. What you’re going to notice is that some are complete contradictions because different things have helped different runners!
- Do good warm up routine so blood is flowing through the muscles in advance and not a rapid increase
- Stay well hydrated, dry skin is going to feel worse
- Wearing tights for those with sensitive skin to move moisture away
- NOT wearing running pants for those with sensitive skin to avoid any friction or rubbing
- Enjoy a warm bath after to increase that moisture in the skin
- Or try putting a cold compress on the area, to stop the nerve cells from sending out signals
- Using a topical with lidocaine
- Don’t run with any lotion on your skin, it blocks the sweat
- Or if super dry, do run with lotion! Coconut oil can be a good option here.
- Wear compression socks to help with circulation
- Consider changing laundry detergents, in case there is something in there creating the itch (this happens even when not exercising for many people)
Hopefully this gives you a place to start understanding why do my legs itch when I run and some ideas to help make it better. Honestly, it may never go away 100%, but just getting it to feel less intense or only happen occasionally is a big win!
Looking for more running tips?
- Tips for Cold Weather Running
- Best running belts (stay on top of that hydration)
- How to run a mile without stopping
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