September 20, 2011
Question of the Week: “I just ran my first half-marathon ever, and while I was totally delighted to finish, I’m definitely NOT thrilled with the painful, bleeding abrasions on my chest and shoulders from a rogue sports bra! How can I heal quickly and get back on the road?”
Work with active women’s bodies for 27+ years like I have, and you're going to find out a lot about the inconvenient and uncomfortable "ouches" that inevitably show up when we’re out there kicking it hard!
Some injuries definitely come from fierce smash-ups with equipment and other players as gung-ho about winning as we are! But because I live and breathe sports bras, most of the ones I’ve seen and heard about actually come from unfriendly gear.
But even in the latest and greatest high-tech sports bra, too many miles of running on a hot day or taking a tough hit in a super-competitive game can scrape, bruise and lacerate tender skin. Here are the three most prevalent hazards, and how to fight back:
1. Raw red abrasions from your sports bra rubbing on your chest. In a recent focus group of dedicated runners, when I asked what length of run will start to aggravate chafing from a bra, most women said it especially starts to kick in at about the 10 mile mark. That’s because the constant friction on any ‘hot spot’ begins to add up and can progressively scrape you to the point of bleeding.
To minimize tissue trauma before it happens, fine-tune fit around the chest so your sports bra stays put rather than shifting around and ‘flossing’ you raw. Choose a bra with smooth inner surfaces and as few inner seams and bumps as possible. Be really picky about the front of the armholes—make sure your bra doesn’t come so high into your armpit that it digs and chafes. Use a sport lube to help nip friction, heat and abrasion.
2. Bloody nipples: Yikes—this one sounds painful, and it is! If it’s any consolation, it’s even more of an issue for guys than girls. In fact, one study on marathon runners revealed that for every one female that sustained painful or bleeding nipples during distance events, 20 males suffered the problem. That’s because guys’ looser running tops are freer to shift back and forth over tender skin. Frosty weather is even more of a pain in the you-know-where because the cold stiffens nipples and makes them even more prone to chafing.
The best defensive strategies include using a sports lubricant on the spot (although they can rub off in a few miles), or even better, cover your nipples with band-aids or waterproof surgical tape to completely block contact with your gear.
3. Infection in “the fold”: You’ve probably never heard of the “inframammary fold”, but that’s just techie jargon for the crease that forms between the lower part of your breast and your chest wall. It’s important to know about if you’re a D cup or fuller, because it can easily become a dark zone of too much trapped sweat and unwanted friction. That’s not just annoying and uncomfortable: you can actually get a nasty infection from the constant chafing and wetness.
To fend off trouble, keep the crease as dry as possible with super-wicking fabrics in your sports bra, and swap out to a fresh bra ASAP after a workout. When you’re sports bra shopping, look for a sturdy 2-cupped ‘encapsulation’ model that helps lift the girls up and away from the fold. If you think a simple abrasion here might be moving toward an infection, check with your doc to see if an antibiotic cream would be a good idea.
What to Do Once You’re Chafed:
Whether it’s from your sports bra or any other aspect of your game, any ouch that breaks the skin—whether it’s a chafe, scrape or cut—deserves a little special attention to fend off infection and hurry healing.
In the case of abrasions, friction actually causes layers of skin to rub off! While shallow scrapes don’t extend far into the deeper layers of your skin, there can be a shockingly high level of pain because of the many nerve endings that become exposed. If you’ve ever taken your post-race chafe into a hot shower, you totally know what I mean!
Here’s your healing drill:
1. Get clean: Because abrasions can easily become infected, cleanse the area gently but thoroughly with mild soap and water or a mild antiseptic wash. For an extra hedge against infection, pat on some over-the-counter antibiotic cream.
2. Seek cover: If your clothes rub on your newly injured skin, don’t hesitate to shield the worst chafing with a dry dressing to protect new tissue formation and defend against infection and scarring.
3. Get comfortable: A mild pain-reliever such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help take the edge off the ouch.
If you’re anything like me, fear of pain will never keep you from playing hard, so when it happens, I hope these tips will get you quickly through it!