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Why Do My Legs Itch When I Run?

by
author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.

While other runners boast about feeling empowered when they run, all you feel is the urge to scratch your legs. It's hard to find running bliss when you're overwhelmed with itching, tickling and tingling.

Itchy legs are annoying, but usually not a sign of a serious health condition. Dry skin, being out of shape or a specific choice of running gear is likely to blame. In some cases, you might be experiencing a type of immune response, too.

Read More: The Advantages of Running in Tights

Dry Skin

Dry skin isn't caused by your run. It may be due to dry weather conditions or inadequate hydration. But, when it's just you and the road, you may notice the irritation and itch of dry skin more than you do when you're busy with day-to-day activities.

Fortunately, dry skin has an easy fix — moisturizer. Find a formula that works for your skin and lather it on before you head out the door. If dry skin is chronic or accompanied by rough patches or raised bumps, seek the advice of a dermatologist or other doctor.

Fitness Newbies

The capillaries and arteries in your muscles expand as your heart rate increases. When you're fit, your capillaries stay open most of the time, so you don't notice much of a difference when you run. When you've fallen off the exercise wagon, though, the capillaries tend to collapse, so blood can't flow through as easily. When you start running, your capillaries open and the surrounding nerves get stimulated in a way that feels like itching.

The fix? Keep running. On most days, commit to at least a 20-minute brisk walk or jog to keep your stamina up and your blood flowing. As your fitness improves, the itching should dissipate.

Fitness Gear

Your clothes play a role in how your skin feels during a run. If you've got new tights or washed them in a new brand of laundry detergent, your skin may be having a reaction. Sweating may aggravate the irritation. Switch back to your old detergent or save the pants causing the discomfort for days on the couch.

Histamine Release

Itching is an allergic or inflammatory response. Your body releases compounds called histamines during this response, which results in dilation of capillaries. In a 2012 issue of Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, research on mice showed that the body may release histamines in response to exercise to delay fatigue. In some cases, this release may cause the itching of your legs.

Researchers aren't entirely sure why this happens, but it seems entirely natural. If you're sensitive to it, consider popping an over-the-counter antihistamine before you run.

Read More: Hives When Exercising

Urticaria

Urticaria, better known as hives, can occur as a response to any number of triggers experienced during running, including sweat, temperature sensitivity and physical exertion. You'll know it's urticaria because you'll see red welts or bumpy areas of skin at the place of itching.

Consult a physician if you experience hives often while running. The exercise might be the cause, or it might be something you ate before your run or another trigger that just happens to coincide with your run.

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