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What Causes Chafing?

Posted by Bryan Potok, CPO on

Before we can look into the causes chafing, it’s important to understand what chafing is. A chafe is a common skin irritation that is almost identical to blisters. It occurs when the skin is rubbed against another surface over and over again. Not to worry though, it is not a grave injury. However, it can be a real pain in the neck, quite literally sometimes. If left untreated, it may get infected. 

Prosthetic chafing and a few remedies to prevent discomfort.

(photo courtesy of @ottobock)

An added con? It can occur on any body part.

The cure? Prevention, of course.

This article will be your guide to all things chafing.

The causes of chafing

Imagine this, you're running home under the rain, and everything seems to be fine until you get home. You're soaking wet, and as you dry yourself, you start to feel a tinge of discomfort. You keep walking around the house, and you still feel it—maybe along the brim of your socket, sometimes over your kneecap, or perhaps even at the seam that rubs your underarm.

You realize that it's the friction that's irritating the skin until it becomes chapped, blistered, and sometimes even wounded. Friction is chafe's sister, and they are incredibly close. Where friction goes, chafe follows.

A chafe occurs either through skin to skin or skin to socket contact. This is the reason that any part of your body can be susceptible to chafing.

Does an ill-fitting socket result in chafing?

No, this is not true. Although, an ill-fitting socket is one of the most common misconceptions about chafing. Regardless of the socket’s fit, chafing happens as a result of a combination of moisture or sweat along with excess movement.

Does chafing happen in specific environmental conditions?

Although chafing can happen at any given moment, it flourishes most when there is moisture. Sweat-prone areas provide the perfect conditions for a chafe to thrive. When sweat dries, it turns into salt on your skin which increases the friction caused by moving, resulting in a chafe. The environment's moisture holds this same principle, which is why you are more likely to have a chafe when it's humid or rainy.

Chafe prevention

Most people use an anti-chafe lubricant on sweat-prone areas before a workout. A lot of amputees also make use of liquid powder, salve or chafe cream. Whatever your product preference, it is vital to target areas that are most likely to create friction.

Staying hydrated also prevents chafing because this means that you're more likely to sweat continuously, preventing sweat from crystalizing and forming a chafe. Another method to prevent chafing is by staying dry.

Treating chafed areas

1.) Begin with washing the area with warm water. While hot water can seem more soothing, it’s best to avoid it since it will only dry out the skin. Be gentle when cleaning the area, and avoid using soap to prevent further irritation.

2.) Dry the area thoroughly with gentle dabbing motions. Next, apply a balm or salve. Choose one that functions as a healing agent and lubricant so you won't have to stop moving.

3.) Time really heals all wounds. If the area is incredibly tender, it’s best to let your skin rest and breathe. If this means minimizing your movements, then do it.

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  • Nice Blog! I like it. The way of providing the information about chafe prevention is great. I appreciate you for this. But after read your blog, some questions are coming in my mind. Can you please clear that? What are best products for chafing?

    goSweatZone on

  • I have skin chafing between my buttocks and into my vagina. What cream should I buy to dry it up?

    Jeannie on

  • I use Alps anti-perspirant everyday on my limb and let it dry before donning my sleeve. No sweat to speak of.

    Dan on

  • Let me say that I’m a Below Knee Amputee of about five years. The left upper thigh looks like bad country road; the below knee residual is fairly pristine. The difference is sweat on skin. Sweat on skin held closely by the vinyl sleeve that you MUST wear. I can leave the skin dry as a desert, by using copious baby powder OR moisturize it with a cream. My vascular surgeon detests medicated ointments. If itching starts, I apply 1% hydrocortisone cream anyway. It works. I use nylon sheer socks on skin, inside the vinyl. Tomorrow may be different

    Ronald Elliott on

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