Have you ever been out for a run only to suddenly start itching your legs? Don’t panic; you’re not alone.
This fairly common painless skin condition is known as ‘runner’s itch,’ which is actually a misnomer because it’s not just experienced by runners. It also appears in healthy people during or right after they’ve worked out.
So, why do you have itchy legs when running? And what can you do about it? You’ll find the answer to these questions and more below.
Let’s dive in.
Itchy Legs When Running? Runner’s Itch: A Quick Overview
Runner’s itch is also known as induced vasculitis or exercise-induced urticaria. It sounds intimidating, but it’s usually painless and mostly goes away on its own.
However, it can be extremely annoying, to say the least. No one enjoys feeling like they have dozens of ants running all over their skin. Scratching gives you momentary relief, but it does come with several disadvantages.
For one, you can cut your skin and cause it to bleed. Another problem is that your legs may show signs of spots or welts where the itching and scratching are.
If the condition persists, you may experience red splotches on your legs. Sometimes they’re also accompanied by a painful or burning sensation.
What Causes Itchy Legs When Running?
That itching you feel when you run or workout isn’t something on the top surface of your skin. It’s an indication of something going on in the dermis, which is the second layer of the skin.
Vasculatures Become Inflamed
The dermis is where connective tissue, nerve endings, and sweat glands are found. It also contains a vast network of blood vessels, also known as vasculature.
When you engage in any type of intense physical activity, the amount of blood flowing to your lower limbs increases through a process called vasodilation. It’s your body’s way of thermoregulating or cooling off.
This surge of blood flow, along with sweat glands and nerve endings, cause the vasculature in the dermis to swell up. Due to this swelling, the nerves around the surrounding tissues become inflamed.
To your brain, this irritation is similar to what you experience when you get an itch from a bug bite. So, it sends a signal telling you that something is wrong with your legs and that itching may solve the problem.
Histamines Are Released
Another reason that may cause a Itchy Legs When Running, is histamines. When you exercise, your muscles get tired, and you lose energy. Pretty soon, you feel like giving up and going home.
What keeps you from doing that is that your body releases high histamine levels as you’re working out. These chemicals boost energy levels and prevent fatigue.
Unfortunately, to do that, histamine needs to increase the amount of blood surging through your veins. So, they signal the brain to expand blood vessels. Thus, more blood flows through, and you don’t feel as tired.
The problem is that when blood vessels expand, blood flow increases. Consequently, this causes the vasculature and tissues in the dermis to become irritated, and we all know what that means: itchy legs!
In addition, histamine is the same chemical responsible for triggering allergies that cause urticaria or hives. So, in a way, histamine is also responsible for sending the ‘itch your legs now!’ message to the brain.
Who Is Prone to Runner’s Itch?
Anyone who engages in high-intensity physical activity they’re not used to is prone to getting a runner’s itch. It’s not about the type of activity as it is about not giving your body time to gradually adapt to the intense pressure you’re asking it to handle.
Even going on a longer walk than you’re used to can trigger an itching sensation. The risk also increases if the weather is hot and you haven’t done any physical exercise in a while.
Someone with a broken leg or ankle can suffer from a runner’s itch as they first start to move around normally doing their day-to-day activities. This is especially true if they haven’t done any rehabilitation training when their leg was in the cast.
Some people get it just by standing in the hot sun for extended periods of time. Think amusement parks, which is why this condition is also referred to as the ‘Disney rash.’
When to Seek Medical Help
The good news is that not many people who suffer from itchy leg syndrome when exercising seek medical help. It usually goes away within a week to 10 days at most.
However, if you notice your legs aren’t getting any better after a week, you should get it looked at by a professional. Sometimes the symptoms of runner’s itch can mimic those of several autoimmune conditions. So, you should have it looked at to rule out anything more serious.
How to Prevent Runner’s Itch
Take a look at these preventative tips for avoiding Itchy Legs When Running the next time you work out.
Luckily, regular exercise strengthens blood vessels and makes them more resilient. So, they’re not as vulnerable to dilation and irritation.
These changes in your body reduce your risk of getting a runner’s itch and help prevent its symptoms.
Unfortunately, every time you take a long break from regular exercise, your body will need to be reconditioned once again. To prevent this from happening, start gradually.
Create a workout plan that caters to your personal needs. Make sure you begin with low-intensity exercises and give your legs time to rest and recover. Then, add a bit more intensity the following week, and so on.
The important thing to always remember is to listen to what your body is telling you. If it’s in pain or handling more than it can, it’ll let you know. So, pay attention. It won’t do you any good to rush into the quick, high-intensity workouts when your legs are suffering.
So, case in point: frequency and repetition are your two best bets at avoiding getting itchy legs when running.
By conditioning your body and improving your stamina, you allow your body to get used to increased levels of activities. This way, you’ll progress at your own pace and time.
The choices you make during your runs play a significant role in helping reduce your chances of itchy hives. This means making the right decisions about when and where to work out and what types of clothes to wear.
For example, if it’s in the middle of summer and the heat is unrelenting, don’t run outdoors. It’s that simple. Why put your body through extra suffering when you can get the same results indoors at home or at the gym?
As for your exercise gear, choose lightweight fabrics that don’t trap in the heat. One great example is moisture-wicking clothes.
You can find shirts, shorts, and even socks made of this material. As if by magic, this type of fabric ‘wicks’ moisture away from your body. Accordingly, your sweat evaporates, leaving you cool, dry, and itch-free.
To keep your feet nice and cool, opt for footwear that offers plenty of breathability. Look for running shoes made of nylon mesh for maximum ventilation and comfort.
If you have sensitive skin, you can avoid itchy legs by choosing the right type of laundry detergent. Opt for naturally made, hypoallergenic, or fragrance-free brands made especially for sensitive skin. They can ease the feeling of itchiness and prevent your skin from flaring up.
Also, make sure you use liquid detergents rather than powders. The latter tends to leave a slight residue behind on clothes, which can trigger your hives.
The first thing people often think about when they hear the phrase ‘stay hydrated’ is to drink water. It’s true that well-hydrated skin starts from the inside. Yet, keeping the outside hydrated and nourished is also crucial.
Apply a light moisturizer or sunscreen before going on your run to keep dry skin moisturized and less likely to get irritated and itchy. Also, remember to always apply moisturizer after showering, especially during winter when you’re more prone to dry or sensitive skin due to the cold weather.
Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. Don’t wait until you get thirsty. Experts recommend you drink between half an ounce to one ounce of water per pound of your body weight.
So, if you weigh 150 pounds, your daily water intake should be anywhere between 75 to 150 ounces. That comes to about 9 – 19 cups or 2 – 4 liters of water per day.
Antihistamines work by blocking the release of histamines in your bloodstream. As a result, blood vessels don’t expand. So, there’s no increased blood flowing to the surface of your skin, which means no urticaria or itchiness.
Make sure you choose an over-the-counter antihistamine that’s also non-drowsy. Take it about half an hour to an hour before your workout or run.
Here are a few antihistamine medications to choose from:
- Cetirizine, sold under the brand name Zyrtec
- Fexofenadine, sold under the brand name Allegra
- Loratadine, sold under the brand name Claritine
Improve Blood Flow
One way to prevent itchiness is to improve your overall blood circulation levels. You can do this by raising your legs for 10 – 15 minutes several times during the day.
Some people also wear compression socks. They work by putting slight pressure on the veins in your legs to allow for more enhanced blood flow. Plus, they reduce the swelling, redness, and swelling that come with runner’s itch.
How long you should keep them depends on your condition. Talk to your doctor before incorporating compression socks into your daily routine.
Other remedies that can help boost circulation and reduce itching include:
- Soak in a warm bath with Epsom salt, oatmeal, or baking soda
- Apply a cold compress the affected areas on your legs to alleviate itchiness
- Apply a mild steroid cream can help reduce the itch and ease the prickling sensation
- Hydrocortisone creams, or aloe vera gels also help ease the discomfort
Final Thoughts On Runner’s Itch: Itchy Legs When Running?
Once you get those itchy legs when running, that can certainly suck the fun right out of your exercise routine. It’s hard to think about anything else when your legs feel like they’re being invaded by a colony of ants.
The good news is that it’s not harmful, and its symptoms will usually subside within days. It’s really just an annoyance more than anything else.
Just remember to keep up with your exercise routines and take good care of your body inside and out. Luckily, it’ll repay you by not making you suffer through another bout of runner’s itch syndrome.