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How to Do a Tick Check After a Trail Run

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Getting out on the trails with my kids rocks my world. Though I love spending time outside with them, I’m definitely not a fan of insects or spiders–including ticks.

Depending on where you run or live, and the time of year, ticks may be a concern. Ticks are tiny arachnids that live on the blood of mammals, birds, and other creatures (external parasites) and can transmit disease. Lyme disease spread by the deer tick is a notable tickborne illness.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends people take preventative measures to safeguard against ticks, advising the use of repellents that contain DEET or Permethrin. According to the CDC, “Parents should apply [repellents] product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.”

When an adult, child, or pet has spent time outdoors where ticks could be a concern, it’s important to conduct a tick-check and promptly remove any discovered ticks.

The CDC provides guidance on tick checks, which can be found in full here.

In a nutshell, the CDC advises that, “Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.”

The Post-Run Tick Check Checklist:

Step 1:  Start the post-run tick check before you go into the house.  Do a visual inspection of your legs. Be aware that ticks can vary greatly in size.  Ticks can crawl out onto branches, grass, shrubs, and twigs that overhang trails.  When you run by and brush against these branches or blades of grass, ticks can latch on to your legs, clothing, or gear. Since your legs are likely to first come into contact with ticks, it makes good sense to give your legs initial attention.

Step 2:  Examine your gear. Look over any running shoes, hydration packs, waist belts, hats, running gaiters, or other running accessories. Sometimes ticks hitch a ride into the house and onto you via gear, so it helps to do this check before you go inside.  Get into the habit of inspecting your gear, shaking it out, and washing/tumble drying it once you get back inside (if you can).

Before the kids and I go into the house after a run, we do a preliminary tick check.

Step 3:  Check your ankles, socks, and shoes. Take your shoes and socks off. Check your ankles. Make sure there are no ticks in the ankle area where your socks had covered during your run.  Visually examine your shoes and shake your shoes out.

Step 4:  Do a full-body tick check. If you plan to bathe or shower after your run, this is a good opportunity to more easily and closely look for ticks. Examine your entire body (e.g., arms, under the arms, neck, in and around the ears, behind the knees, any creases, etc.).  Examine your scalp and hair.  Ticks tend to gravitate toward the warmest areas of your body, so check your armpits, torso, scalp, groin, and areas behind your ears.  Run your hands through your hair, feeling for ticks. Even more effective, ask someone to examine your scalp for you.

Teach your kids how to do a tick inspection after a run, too. Help your kids look for ticks, especially if they are young and not able to conduct a thorough tick check. I remember finding a tick on my son’s scalp when I felt something unusual on his head after combing my fingers through his hair and around his ears.

If you find a tick: 

  • If you find a tick, whether crawling or embedded, remove it promptly following the CDC’s recommendations, or consult your doctor for advice.
  • Keep an eye out for any rashes, including a bull’s eye or circular rash, or symptoms in the following days or weeks after exposure to ticks, or after spending time in tick prone areas. Consult your doctor if you have concerns.


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