I’m no doctor, but I’m an expert on itchy legs when I run or walk. The problem is – most people look at me like I’m weird when I tell them about it. If you’re reading this, chances are you know the routine… mind-numbing itching which almost completely eliminates any chance of a good cardio workout. And today – I think I’ve got my answer to this problem.
Update: There is a 2012 follow-up to this 2010 article. See link at the bottom of this page.
Itchy Legs When You Walk
5-10 minutes after you start a steady walk or run, you’ll start feeling your thighs tingle, then itch, then increase in intensity until it feels like you’ve reached a level of Dante’s Inferno – the level where 10,000 mosquitoes go into a frenzy on your legs. I’ve scratched my legs until I’ve torn the skin. Usually it starts on the quads (front thigh) and works its way around to the buttocks and even into the torso area. It is truly debilitating, and the sole reason I never really embraced cardio as part of my workout. When I’ve told people I hate running because my legs itch, I usually get a confused or scornful look. But if you’ve had this itch, you know I’m not exaggerating. It can be maddening.
Over the years I’ve looked around for answers and never really found much that worked. I tried changing to different materials for my shorts, only running in warm weather, only running in cool weather, not running in the wind, only walking, interval walk/running, rubbing lotion on prior to running – you name it. And the worst advice I read was that it was my capillaries shrinking due to poor circulation – and to just “push through it” and it’ll go away over time. How many torturous itch sessions did I have to endure due to that quack advice?
So I decided to try researching it again, and after a lot of reading and testing, today was the first time I was able to engage in a nice, brisk 30-minute walk with minimal itching. What did I do? I took Zyrtec an hour before exercising. That’s it.
So if the treatment is an antihistamine, the cause would be histamines, probably released during the vibration and repetitive nature of walking and running. This would also explain why playing sports – which have a lot of stopping involved – don’t always induce this problem.
Some people attribute it to Exercise Urticaria, but to me the definitions of that don’t quite fit. Perhaps it is a version of it. But what us itchy-leg-runners get isn’t hives or raised. There is a warm feeling, though the skin is usually cool to the touch. The itching comes on several minutes into exercise and escalates to unbearable levels. I’ve found applying lotion after an attack makes it go away faster, but doesn’t prevent it.
I tried Benadryl and it didn’t work. Zyrtec did to some extent, and I have read that people have had good luck with Claritin as well.
All I know is that if a simple antihistamine is the cure, then it will open a whole world of cardio that I’ve never been able to experience before.
There is a 2012 follow-up to this article. Read that article here.