Jogger’s nipples or runner’s nipples is a condition caused by the constant friction between a runner’s nipples and shirt, which causes chafing of the nipples and areola. Jogger’s nipples is probably the term most often used since the condition is more prevalent in long-distance runners. It is also called fissure of the nipple. It is similar to the nipple irritation sometimes experienced by breastfeeding mothers. Surfers who do not wear rash guards may also have this problem. It is more of a problem during hot, humid days and can also happen to bike riders.
Occurring especially during long runs or with a high running volume, this chafing of the nipple can cause painful, crusted lesions. In the worst cases, these lesions can bleed and the blood is able to be seen through the shirt as two parallel red lines, especially if the shirt is light-colored. However, even though the outward appearance of the chafing may sometimes be subtle, the pain can still be quite intense. This condition is more common in men than women, most likely because most women wear some type of soft and protective sports bra. It occurs more often in men who wear tight-fitting shirts of rough material, or cotton t-shirts. In women, of course, it is more likely to happen if a bra is not worn.
Prevention of Jogger’s Nipples
Preventative measures center on anything that can cover the nipples and prevent the rubbing of the shirt. Male runners, when practical, can run without a shirt. Avoid cotton, which is rough and absorbs moisture, causing more friction. Avoid shirts or singlets with silk-screened or other designs across the chest, and also singlets with a soft-fabric panel across the chest, as this type of clothing can increase friction. Wear soft-fiber moisture wicking shirts made of semi-synthetic material. Petroleum jelly, aquaphor, patches such as corn patches, or a bandage can be placed on the nipples prior to running. There are also commercially available waterproof pads made especially to prevent runner’s nipple.
There are also special anti-chafing balms like BodyGlide, which are made specifically to prevent chafing and irritation from running, and are not as messy and sticky as Vaseline; and are less likely to rub off.
Treatment of Jogger’s Nipples
Treatment is simple and is similar to that of any type of abrasion. A triple antibiotic ointment can be used to help prevent infection, especially if the skin is actually fissured (cracked), but is optional. Petroleum jelly can be used to retain moisture and to protect the skin, and a light dressing can be applied. The best treatment is prevention, and most cases should heal fine on their on as long as the irritation to the skin is prevented from continuing to occur.
Glover, Bob, Jack Shepherd, and Shelly-lynn Florence. Glover. The Runner’s Handbook: The Best-selling Classic Fitness Guide for Beginner and Intermediate Runners. New York: Penguin, 1996.
Hall, Brian J., John C. Hall, and Gordon C. Sauer. Sauer’s Manual of Skin Diseases. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.
Rippe, James M. Lifestyle Medicine. Boca Raton: CRC, 2013.