Monday, April 27, 2009

Nipples in a Pickle?

Nipple—such a funny little word. Not so funny for many runners. The chafed nipple has been the angst of runners for decades. This painful side effect of running was probably unknown to many non-runners until the hilarious episode of The Office where they decided to sponsor a fun run. Amazing how something so small can be the source of so much pain. I saw one runner at the San Francisco Marathon a few years back that looked like the victim of a drive-by shooting—two dark red stains streaming down the front of his singlet. OUCH!! I could barely look at him. I could only imagine the pain he must have felt.

What's the cause of this painful problem? Chafing. When fabric rubs against the nipple, the nipple becomes irritated, then chafed, or worse. Many runners don't experience the dreaded chafed nipple until they begin doing longer runs. The longer the time the fabric has to rub against the nipple the higher the chances of irritation.

So, what's a runner to do? First thing, make sure your running tops are not made of cotton. Cotton absorbs and retains moisture which can increase the irritation. When wet, cotton also tends to be abrasive against the skin. Finding non-cotton running apparel shouldn't be too hard these days with all the technical fabrics available. Look for tops made of polyester, nylon, or spandex. Some trademarked technical fabrics include Lyrca, CoolMax, DriFit, FitDry, ClimaLite, and PlayDry. Be careful though, just because a top is made of a technical fabric doesn't mean you're safe—design and fit also plays a big part. Look out for irritating seams. Flatseam stitching will help minimize chafing. Also, decide if you're a tight-fit or a loose-fit. I've discovered that shirts or singlets that contain Lycra or spandex and are designed to have a body-hugging fit, cause less chafing. The fabric doesn't move around as much creating less friction and irritation. However, body-hugging fabrics aren't for everyone. Some runners prefer loose-fitting tops so that if the irritation begins, they can lift the fabric away from affected area.

You've tried various types of fabrics, loose-fit, snug-fit, and you're still getting runners' nipple? Then you might be in need of one of the many products designed to stop nipple chafing.

Lubricants: Bag Balm, Udder Cream, Body Glide , Sportslube, SportShield, SportSlick, are all products designed to lubricate and provide a protective barrier between the nipple and the fabric. Petroleum jelly is also a favorite. Be careful though, some of these products may leave stains. These products are also good to use on other areas of the body where chafing may occur.

Protective Coverings: NipGuards are popular with many runners. NipGuards adhere directly to the base of the nipple and are 100% guaranteed not to fall off until you decide to remove them. The premise is simple. You cover the nipple and they don't get chafed. Many runners also use regular adhesive bandages such as Nexcare or Band-Aid. If you decide to go this route, be sure to select one of the many waterproof varieties on the market. Once, I used circular waterproof bandages and they worked fine. So fine in fact, that when I removed my shirt, I had two miniature water balloons attached to my chest. All I needed were some tassels and a dancer's pole. :-)

If you do experience severe chafing, treat the area like any open wound. Even though it will be painful, you'll need to wash and clean the area to prevent infection and then cover with a breathable bandage. Applying an antibiotic cream or ointment may be helpful too.


RunnerDude said...

Update: Just got a message from a Twitter buddy of mine (Malcolmisaacs) and he swears by Micropore Tape. He puts a small piece on each 'susceptible area.' Says - around 2cm/0.5" square is enough. Cheap, and works wonders.

Chic Runner said...

ha ha ha, i posted about this back in December. :)

Running Through Life said...

I just had my first experience with this a month ago. It hurt like hell and now I use body glide every time.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Chic Runner! Guess you scooped me on the Nipple story. LOL! Thought it might be appropriate with the warmer weather upon us.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Running Through Life! Glad you found something that works. Not sure which is worse, having it happen on the run with miles more to go, or getting in the shower afterwards. OUCH!!!!!