7 Not-So-Pleasant Side Effects of Living In Workout Clothes
When Workout Clothes Cause Health Scares
Running errands after the gym is a habit for many busy women. Why not grab a few things from the store (and pick up the kids and get gas and stop by a friend's house) while you're already out and about? But while your adorable workout clothes might be cute enough to wear in public, if they're sweaty, they may not be safe.
I found this out the hard way when I recently developed a painful, swollen bump down there. Visions of cancer or some other scary disease flashed through my head and I raced to my doctor. The verdict? An infected sweat glad from living in my tight, sweaty athletic clothing—nothing a little antibiotic cream wouldn't clear right up. As she lectured me on the importance of changing right after my workouts, my doc added that she's seeing a lot more cases like mine, thanks to the athleisure trend. Here, other side effects of hanging out in your gym clothes—and what to do if you notice a problem.
Cycling enthusiast and spin instructor Shannon H. was baffled when her backside started to hurt and burn after every workout—and not in a good way. She'd had years of experience to get her bum used to bicycle seats and had never had a problem before. So she decided to just increase the amount of time she wore her padded bike shorts, thinking they'd protect her posterior. Wrong move. "I had literal saddle sores," she explains. Yes, like the kind newbie cowboys get, minus the street cred of riding a bucking bronco.
The cure: Shannon's sores were so extreme she had to see a doc to have them lanced and packed with gauze until they healed. Now, she sticks to normal wicking workout bottoms and has lightened up her teaching schedule so she spends less time stuck in the saddle. Shannon did the right thing, says Sheryl Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn and women's health expert in Santa Monica, CA. Wearing the same type of tight-fitting shorts every day never gave her bum a break, and she says that the extra thick fabric of her shorts was trapping the moisture and bacteria, making the open wounds worse and risking infection.
Bag, shoes, deodorant, blow dryer, your favorite conditioner—packing for the gym can be quite a production. And the easiest items to forget are the ones you have to throw in your bag every day, like clean socks and undies. So you can understand why Janet M. often found herself wearing her workout socks all day, long after her workout was over. But her sweaty tootsies were soon covered with a fungus. "I got Athlete's Foot from my gross socks," she admits.
The cure: That warm, moist environment is the perfect breeding ground for fungi and bacteria, says Wenjay Sung, M.D., a consultant podiatrist for the LA Dodgers and SOLS Medical Advisory Board Member. He recommends splurging for special wicking socks designed for workouts and spraying your feet with deodorant prior to working out to cut down on sweat. And don't forget backups! "Now I bring a new pair of socks with me to change after my workout and I even keep a spare pair at my office," Janet says.
Smelly, uncomfortable yeast infections are one of the most common gynecological issues—and while we may not know all the reasons we get them, there's one that's high on the list: running around in damp workout bottoms. (Psst... Find out the 5 Biggest Yeast Infection Myths.) Summer L. found that out the hard way when she got the dreaded itchy illness.
The cure: "Itching can be due to excessive moisture, like after working out. However, if it persists after showering, it can be a sign of a yeast infection," explains Allison Hill, M.D., an ob-gyn at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles and co-author of The Mommy Docs' Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. "If you've never had one before, you should see your doctor to confirm." To avoid the issue, shower and rinse your genitals thoroughly with clean water as soon as you can post-workout and then put on clean, dry underwear.
"My son got a serious staph infection on his leg after the gym," says Yvette J. Their doctor quickly diagnosed the source of the infection as his sweaty workout gear. Staphylococcus bacteria lives everywhere—all it needs is an opportunity to flourish. The warm, moist environment of the gym is exactly what it's looking for, explains Dr. James Marrotta, M.D., a plastic surgeon in Long Island, NY. And while most staph infections aren't a huge deal, some can send you to the hospital or even kill you. (People have even gotten staph infections from the gym that have turned into flesh-eating bacteria!)
The cure: Bacteria are all over gym surfaces and staph isn't the only bad bug you have to worry about, Marrotta says. "Take care of the little things. Wash your hands with regular soap, singing 'Happy Birthday' three times through; always shower right after your workout; and if you do end up with any type of open sore, don't expose them at the gym." (Clothes smell? Here, 11 Ways to Make Your Sweaty Workout Clothes Stink Less).
"I was training for my first race and because my girls are, well, gigantic, I bought super-tight compression bras, which I layered on two or three at a time to keep the bouncing down," says Ariane R. But while her breasts felt well-restrained, she soon noticed pain underneath them. When she got home after a particularly long run, she discovered several open sores on her chest, right along where the bra bands sat. "I had ulcers. And they hurt an insane amount. It almost made me quit running," she says.
The cure: "Double bagging" is common trick large-chested women use to workout more comfortably, but it isn't a good one for breast health, says LaJean Lawson, Ph.D., adjunct professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University. Instead, she says all women—no matter their cup size—should invest in a high-quality bra with smooth, low-friction fabrics to limit chafing. Large-chested? Look for an "encapsulation"-type sports bra that separates breasts to avoid contact between the girls themselves and the rest of the body. (Try one of these Sports Bras for Big Boobs.)
When Jessie S.'s shoulder first started to ache, she chalked the pain up to too many rows and vowed to take it easy. But over the course of a week, the sore spot on the back of her right shoulder got bigger, turned red, and swelled. Soon it was the size of a golf ball. Her regular doctor sent her to a dermatologist who diagnosed her with a common sebaceous cyst, an infected bump filled with pus. The placement of the cyst—right where the straps from her workout tanks hit—lead him to conclude that a bit of grime had gotten ground into her skin at the gym and her sweaty top had kept it trapped in her pores until it festered.
The cure: These cysts are fairly common, especially in areas where sweat and dirt get trapped against the skin says Susan Bard, M.D., a dermatologist at Vanguard Dermatology in New York. But whatever you do, don't try and pop them yourself, she says. "Squeezing often leads to greater inflammation which can lead to scarring or post inflammatory hyperpigmentation," she explains. Wait for the lumps to go away on their own or see your doctor if they become painful.
The smell is what tipped Catherine A. off to the fact that she might have a problem down there. "For the longest time, especially after the gym, I kept smelling fish," she says. It was weird, but she didn't think much of it until one day a friend noticed the odor. Catherine kept silent, but knew immediately the smell was coming from her. Even though she had no pain or other symptoms, she headed to her doctor who diagnosed her with bacterial vaginosis. "She told me that the balance of good and bacteria in my vagina had gotten thrown off from living in my running capris," she explains.
The cure: "Every woman has her own scent. However, if you have a lot of discharge and smell 'fishy', this can be the sign of a bacterial infection called bacterial vaginosis," Hill says. "You should see your doctor to confirm as you likely need antibiotics to treat it."