Updated: Mar 18
About Golfers Legs
Golfers legs is known by many different terms including; Disney rash, golfers vasculitis and hikers rash, but is typically known as exercise induced vasculitis.
Exercise induced vasculitis is when the small blood vessels, typically located around your ankles, calves, shins and sometimes even thighs, become inflamed. In hotter environments, your body attempts to cool you down by sending blood into the small capillaries nearer the surface of the skin. Prolonged exercise in hot weather causes blood to pool in your extremities and the return of blood to the heart is delayed, subsequently causing a rather alarming deep red/purple rash to appear. Most common in females and usually over the age of 50 and often in people who are otherwise very healthy.
I have seen this many times, particularly since working onboard cruise ships, due to passengers getting off in ports and walking more than usual, combined with the (usually) hot weather. When returning to their cabin they then notice the unusual marks on their legs, often starting just above the sock line, causing them to believe they have been exposed to an irritant and are suffering from an allergy. They quickly make a medical appointment, pay a fee to see the doctor and are disappointed to be told the treatment is simply to raise their legs and rest.
Exercise induced vasculitis can be uncomfortable with suffers complaining of itching, burning, stinging and tingling and can take up to 10 days to clear up, often happening only once the person has returned to their usual cooler environment and are rested.
Using cool packs or a damp cool towel over the legs can help to sooth the irritation and reduce swelling, do not put ice directly onto the skin. Elevating the legs can help improving the blood flow reducing the severe appearance of the rash and reduce swelling and inflammation. Over the counter antihistamines can help reduce itching, and ensuring you are well hydrated can also help.
Soaking your legs in warm/hot water will only make this worse, along with further sun exposure and continued physical exertion. Massage, can also make this rash worse. Antibiotics whether oral or in a topical cream form, will not help. Neither will muscle rub, deep heat or most other topical creams/gels.
There is not a great deal you can do to prevent this rash from occurring, unless you are willing to wear uncomfortable and hot compression stockings and reduce your amount of exercise.
Unfortunately, there are also other types of more dangerous rashes that can easily be mistaken for exercise induced vasculitis. An example of some of these can be:
Cellulitis - if your rash is hot to touch, present only on one leg, uniform in colour with a clear border which increases in size, starting from an open wound or insect bite and you feel unwell, you may be suffering from cellulitis. This is an infection and will require medical attention.
Folliculitis - pin prink size red/purpleish rash often with a pus filled head. This is an infection of the hair follicles and can occur after bathing in a not too clean hot tub. The warm water causes your hair follicles to open and bacteria to enter causing an infection.
Meningitis - a non-blanching rash accompanied by feeling very unwell.
Sepsis - having an infection that has escalated to sepsis, whether the source is urinary, chest or other, can present with pin-prick size red rash to your legs. Accompanied with high fever and feeling unwell. Urgent medical attention should be sought if you suspect sepsis.
Measles - an ever increasing cause of a rash typically in young children.
If the cause for your unusual rash is unknown and you are worried about it, and particularly if you feel unwell, seek further medical attention. For further information on common rashes check out my article All About Rashes.
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