Exercise and Cellulitis

group of smiling people dancing in gym or studio
A group of smiling people in an aerobics class. (Image: dolgachov/iStock/Getty Images)

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin. It starts with a break in the skin and spreads into the layers of connective tissue beneath the skin and even the lymph nodes if left untreated. Treatment usually consists of bandaging and a prescribed antibiotic regimen. Exercise may prevent cellulitis, and in some cases, may be part of treatment. If you have cellulitis, or suspect you do, check with your doctor about any treatments you are considering.

Preventing Cellulitis

According to 'Cellulitis' by Dr. Amy Stanway, obese and diabetic individuals are at high risk for this type of infection. Exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise, helps increase circulation throughout the body and reduces weight and other diabetic risk factors, hence lowering your risk of developing cellulitis. To exercise for optimum health benefits, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends you engage in at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week, or 20 to 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise three days per week.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Cellulitis is most often seen in the legs and is identified by redness, swelling and tenderness. The area may also be painful and warm to the touch and may be accompanied by a fever. In some cases, blisters may form in and around the affected area. Cellulitis can develop in as little as 24 hours and can expand rapidly if left untreated. Call your doctor or visit the emergency room immediately if you suspect you have cellulitis.

Treating the Infection

Treatment for cellulitis typically includes an oral antibiotic prescribed by your doctor and a bandaging and cleaning routine. Elevation may be used to reduce swelling and ease pain. According to the National Institutes of Health, you should rest until your symptoms improve. With this recommendation in mind, wait until you have your doctor's clearance before you resume any physical activity.

Exercising After Cellulitis

Once you have finished your antibiotic regimen and have been cleared by your doctor to resume physical activity, take proper care of your wound to ensure the infection doesn't rebound. If at any time your symptoms return, see your doctor before continuing your exercise routine. Be sure to rehydrate following your workout, as dehydration may contribute to recurrent cellulitis. If you are participating in activities with a high risk for cuts, like hiking, wear long pants and sleeves to protect your skin.

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