Learn to prevent one of the most common issues among runners: “jogger’s nipple.”
From toe blisters to cracked lips, runners encounter a host of bodily issues. These problems come in all sizes and often require adequate care and attention, especially among long-distance runners.
Jogger’s nipple is one of those issues that frequently crops up. Also known as runner’s nipple, or by symptoms like nipple chafing or nipple bleeding, this abrasive skin irritation can become a serious problem that shouldn’t go ignored.
What is Jogger’s Nipple?
Jogger’s nipple is a term used in the running community to describe the unpleasant symptoms associated with nipple chafing, fissures, bleeding, and the overall irritation that occurs from running.
Jogger’s nipple is especially common among marathoners, ultramarathoners, and long-distance runners. It can plague those who run in hot and humid conditions when sweat and moisture are at their highest. Symptoms are also common among cold-weather runners whose nipples are more likely to be erect during runs.
Symptoms of Jogger’s Nipple
The symptoms of jogger’s nipple can evolve from annoying to excruciating, and they can worsen run after run if not properly treated. They include:
Jogger’s nipple generally starts when skin becomes hypersensitive to contact, like brushing up against your clothing. This is often described as a slight burning sensation.
After a run, you may notice that your nipples have turned red in color from the irritation. Prolonged friction over time can result in other unusual and dull discoloration.
Sore nipples are a common symptom, especially if the initial signs of sensitivity and redness go overlooked. This sensation may feel deeper under the skin and take longer to heal.
Especially during cold season running, dryness can be a harsh symptom of nipple chafing and constant friction. You may notice flaking, itching, and related symptoms when dryness occurs.
Persistent nipple dryness can result in skin cracking and fissures. This occurs when the skin is very damaged and likely involves a combination of jogger’s nipple symptoms.
The nipples may bleed after persistent nipple chafing, such as during a long-distance run like a marathon or ultramarathon. Extreme dryness can also cause bleeding.
When the symptoms of jogger’s nipple are recognized early on, you can actively prevent nipple chafing and can enjoy frictionless running without any irritation.
Causes of Jogger’s Nipple
The skin that makes up the areolas of the nipple is particularly sensitive, especially with repetitive friction over an extended period of time. In turn, this area is prone to unpleasant runner’s nipple symptoms when rubbing and chafing occur.
Aside from the obvious irritation that’s caused by clothing friction on the nipple, there are certain contributing factors that can increase the likelihood of jogger’s nipple occurring.
Increased Running Volume
A distance runner who logs 40 miles per week is far more likely to experience jogger’s nipple than a recreational runner who puts in 15 miles a week. In fact, one study found the 40 weekly miles group were ten times (10x) more prone to nipple problems compared to those who logged just 15 weekly miles.1
Running in cold weather conditions can be problematic for jogger’s nipple. Because the nipples can harden when cold, their more likely to run against your top and create extra friction.
Conversely, hot and humid conditions create higher levels of perspiration and moisture between your skin and your top. Especially if your top doesn’t effectively wick moisture away from the body, extra sweat and salt can quickly irritate the nipples.
Choice of Clothing
The wrong choice of top can wreak havoc on your nipples. Not is proper fit important, but so is the choice of material. Cotton and wool are two of the most problematic materials, especially when they fit loosely over the chest, thereby creating friction with every stride. Even moisture-wicking tech tees, which are popular among runners, can have a rough, abrasive sensation on the areolas.
For female runners, hormones like estrogen and progesterone fluctuate in your body during the menstrual cycle. Depending on where you are in your cycle, these hormonal changes can stimulate your body to produce more breast tissue, thereby causing greater friction with your normal running clothing. Pregnancy can have a similar effect.
Treatment of Jogger’s Nipple
If you start to feel the symptoms of jogger’s nipple, especially nipple bleeding during running, it’s crucial to take action sooner than later. Not only do you want to treat the issue you’re currently experiencing but also protect against future occurrences.
With proper treatment, the irritation and symptoms often take a few days to fully heal. If taking time away from running is not an option with your training, see the prevention tips below before your next run.
When it comes to jogger’s nipple treatment options, here are a few best practices to help you heal quickly.
- Clean chafed nipples – thoroughly sanitize the irritated nipples with natural, unscented soap and avoid using any soaps that contain chemicals.
- Apply cream – a steroid cream like hydrocortisone can provide relief and help heal swollen or inflamed nipples. Similarly, antibiotic cream can help the nipples heal.
- Moisturize consistently – regularly use Neosporin or lotion to help accelerate the healing process. This is especially helpful with extremely dry nipples.
- Cover irritated nipples – especially if you’re experiencing dryness and bleeding, cover the wound with breathable gauze to help keep dirt or particles away from the nipples.
- Allow time for recovery – jogger’s nipple can take several days to completely heal. If possible, avoid running in conditions that may worsen symptoms or interrupt the healing process.
While treatment is important to heal the nipple area, prevention is the best measure to avoid jogger’s nipple entirely. Experienced runners know this well, which is why you’ll often see some of these prevention measures at the beginning of a long race.
Preventing Jogger’s Nipple
Preventing running injuries is one thing, but jogger’s nipple is another. In short, it’s an easy thing to prevent with the right course of action and it shouldn’t leave you sidelined from your training.
Wear the Proper Top
While a soft cotton t-shirt might feel like a comfortable option, it’s one of the most common culprits with runner’s nipple. Avoid organic materials like cotton, wool, hemp, and linen, and stick with synthetic moisture-wicking shirts that help you stay dry.
Fit also make a big difference, especially in cold conditions. Stick with well-fitted shirts and tight-fitted base layers to minimize the amount of friction between your skin and your clothes. A compression vest is also a fine option for base layers.
Buy Seamless Sports Bras
For women, the right bra is also a critical element to avoid jogger’s nipple. Seamless sports bras that offer a snug fit and are made from moisture-wicking materials are a great investment for regular runners. Less stitching and seams help minimize friction and irritation.
Lubricate Your Nipples
Lubricants like petroleum jelly provide a protective barrier that helps reduce the irritating abrasion that occurs between your skin and your shirt. Not only can this help moisturize the area, but the shirt can glide more easily, preventing skin friction.
Use a Powder
Adding a light layer of baby powder, alum powder, or talcum powder before your runs can help prevent jogger’s nipple. The minerals in these powders help absorb moisture and keep your nipples dryer, which prevents chafing and reduces unwanted friction.
There are many options to cover your nipples and prevent chafing. Band-Aid, running tape, and other specialized products have been developed for this very cause. Applying coverage across your nipples effectively protects them from any friction, thereby eliminating the source of the problem.
When ramping up into longer distances of triathlon or running, like half marathons, marathons, and ultramarathons, it is important to monitor and take care of the small things. Jogger’s nipple is one of those issues that you may likely experience but can prevent by taking action.
1 Purim, Kátia Sheylla Malta, and Neiva Leite. “Sports-related dermatoses among road runners in Southern Brazil.” Anais brasileiros de dermatologia vol. 89,4 (2014): 587-92. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20142792