How to Prevent Running Blisters

Dec 15, 2011   //   by James Dunne   //   Blog  //  10 Comments

Suffering from blisters caused by running can be incredibly frustrating and is an ailment that affects runners and triathletes of all abilities. Blisters can be extremely painful and can stop runners in their tracks; they can also cause infection if not dealt with in the correct manner.

There are three main factors which cause runners to get blisters on their feet: heat, moisture and friction. The best way to tackle the problem of blisters is to address the three main causes of blistering. If you try and reduce friction against your shoe and keep your feet dry and cool this should minimise the problem of blistering. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.

Unfortunately there are not many ways to ensure that your feet are cool while you are running apart from wearing the correct socks and running shoes. However there are many methods which can help keep your feet dry and reduce rubbing and friction.

Avoid puddles and if you like to pour water over your head while running, either try to ensure that none of the water lands on your feet or perhaps consider shoes which drain/dry well.

Trying to keep your feet completely dry when running is impossible, especially when it is raining, but there are several steps you can take to prevent moisture developing inside your running shoe. One of the biggest mistakes people make when choosing footwear is the type of sock that they wear. Any sock which is made from cotton is usually completely unsuitable for running. When you sweat they soak up a lot of the moisture from your feet and can act like sandpaper rubbing against your foot which is a big cause of blistering. It is essential that you choose a pair of ‘wick-away’ socks which take the moisture from your feet. There are many different types and brands of effective socks and they vary in price and style. Obviously, different people are suited to different types of sock so the best way to find the best sock for you is trial and error. Experiment with a number of different types of sock until you find the one that suits you the best.

Tip: Applying anti-perspirant spray, talcum powder or foot powder will also help to keep your feet from getting too wet.

As I mentioned earlier, blisters are caused by the friction of your foot rubbing against your running shoe and there are several ways in which this problem can be solved.

Blisters are often caused by wearing inappropriate shoes; a pair of shoes which is the wrong size or the wrong style can cause many painful blisters, other foot or leg injuries and can also cause an improper running technique. Having a shoe which is comfortable and fits correctly is vital for any runner and it will decrease the chance of getting painful blisters and will also help prevent other injuries, such as twisted ankles. There should be about a centimetre of space between the tip of your big toe and the end of the shoe. You must also make sure that the heel is not too loose or tight. A slipping heel will cause movement within the shoe and this will cause friction as the foot rubs against the fabric. A heel which is too tight will also cause pain or even injury. Also check the rest of the shoe to ensure that there is no part of the shoe which is too tight or loose fitting. The most important thing when choosing a pair of shoes is to make sure that it is not too tight or too loose as a shoes which does not fit WILL cause rubbing and friction which will cause blisters.

Choosing the right type of shoe for running is also important. Different types of running need different types of shoe. Different shape feet suit different brands of shoe; however there are some things which all runners should look for in a shoe. It is important to pick a pair of shoes which allow your feet to breath as this helps get rid of moisture. When buying a pair of shoes, try it out as much as possible before you buy; often shops will have a treadmill… use it!

When you have picked the right shoes for you make sure you have tied your shoes correctly. It sounds ridiculous but many people do not tie their shoes correctly. Tying shoes too loosely can cause rubbing and can cause the toes to constantly bang into the front of the shoe which can cause blistering, bruising and toe nail damage. Tying too tightly can also cause pain and discomfort so tie your shoes tight but not too tightly.

There are also a number of different products which you can buy to stop your feet from rubbing. There are many brands of lubricant which can be applied to your feet such as Vaseline; alternatively you could use a brand which is designed specifically for running such as Bodyglide. If you are constantly getting blisters in one place (e.g. toes, heel or ball of your foot) you can tape up your foot or apply plasters. Like lubricant, you can use standard zinc oxide tape and plasters or you can use brands which are specifically tailored to running and walking such as Compeed (second skin). Applying tape or plaster will cut down on the friction which your feet have to endure.

What to do if you have a blister? If the blister is not causing pain when walking then you should just covered it with a plaster, tape or Compeed. If it’s causing pain then you can either just cover it up to reduce further friction or you can drain it by “popping” it. Where possible, you should do this at home with a sterile needle. Once you have drained the fluid from the blister you should clean the area, ensure there is no infection and apply a plaster, bandage or similar. Draining a blister will increase the risk of infection, while it can relieve pain, this should be an informed decision!

Much of this advice can also be used to prevent or cure chafing. Chafing is also caused by moisture, heat and friction. It most commonly occurs on the inner thigh, in the groin, in the armpits or around the nipples. You can prevent chafing in the same way you prevent blisters. Make sure you are wearing suitable clothing and that it fits. Make sure that that you stay dry and that you drink plenty of water. Lubrication can also prevent chafing in the same way that it prevents blisters.

Both conditions can be extremely painful and frustrating. They can hinder the performance of a runner and can even put people off running completely. However blistering and chafing can both be easily prevented and as I said earlier, prevention is better than cure.

About The Author

James has an academic background in Sport Rehabilitation and a special interest in Applied Biomechanics. He currently coaches a large number of Runners and Triathletes across all levels of ability and performance. He's grown a strong reputation for enabling athletes to improve their running performance and overcome running injuries through improving their Running Technique and developing Running Specific Strength.

 

10 Comments

  • The first thing I try and do in any race is stick my feet in water and make sure they’re soaked, dry socks seem to give me blisters. As I’m a fell runner this is not usually a problem.
    Having looked after medical needs at a few ultras, the main cause of blisters seems to be untested footwear & socks in untested conditions.

    • I get a hotspot in the same place on my left foot every race in the UK at about 12 miles in which always turns into a blister. Tarmac or footpath, it doesn’t matter. I was starting assume it was because my feet get hot, but I also race in hot climates and the hotspot doesn’t appear. Then the last race I did in 30c it clicked. In hot races I frequently pour water over my head and thus run with wet socks. Thinking back, I ran a race recently in the UK and the hotspot appeared right on queue at mile 11. Then it started raining, the blister didn’t form and I forgot all about it. I’m tempted to try your method of soaking my socks on purpose before I start running.

  • I smother my feet in Bodyglide & Make sure they’re moisturised post run, after I shower & dry them obviously! I find twin skin socks are better than single, although I do have to make sure there’s no wrinkles in the inner layer!

    Great information in the blog – thank god my blisters have never been as bad as the one in the photo (vomit inducing!)

  • “As I mentioned earlier, blisters are caused by the friction of your foot rubbing against your running shoe and there are several ways in which this problem can be solved.”

    You failed to mention running form. My primary pair of shoes I use for long runs (up to a 52 mile trail ultra) is what most would consider far too large for my feet. However even up to that distance at once, I’ve never experienced a blister in them. I attribute this to having a nice run gait where I land close to under my center of gravity and there is little movement of my foot within the shoe.

    • Best answer by a mile!

  • Advice to all my athletes is to put a liberal layer of dubbin on the feet. Dubbin is used to treat leather. The dubbin eventually makes the skin tough yet keeps it soft. The down side is that one needs to accept the yellow socks OR get dark coloured socks!

    P.S. I have even used dubbin between my legs for cycling and it works!! It also treats the chamois of the cycling shorts at the same time!

    • Thanks Glen. I like it! Makes sense – I used to spend hours applying dubbin to rugby boots.

  • i use tuf-foot. great stuff. Even if i do get a blister i dont feel it like i normally would.

    • jamie,I agree with you.It’s a valuable information for me.we know that It’s a common problem for runner.thanks

  • Dealing with blister is one of the common problem for runner. Carrying blister plaster is also really helpful as instant relief. Thanks for you good tips.

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