Running blisters can be a bane of existence for any runner and are the most common cause of foot pain when running.
But while they’re quite common for runners, they’re not a rite of passage to enter the running community. They can be easily preventable with the right gear.
Over 17 years of running, I’ve only had a few and each time been able to pretty quickly remedy the situation with these tips. While they’re quite common for runners, they’re not a rite of passage to enter the running community. So don’t believe they are just something to live with.
They can be easily preventable with the right gear.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about why blisters form, how to prevent them, and what to do if you currently have one.
What are Blisters?
Blisters are small pockets of clear fluid under a layer of skin. When your skin is damaged by heat or friction and rubbing, blisters are formed.
When skin is injured, a fluid will develop between the top layers of skin and the layers below to protect them from further harm.
What Do Blisters Look and Feel Like?
Running blisters are characterized by small bubbles of skin filled with clear liquid and, on occasion, redness or bruising as well. They can also form under your toenails and bleed if they pop, resulting in black toenails.
Blisters can be absolutely benign or extremely painful, but the good news is that they do not constitute a severe health concern on their own.
Continuing to run on them, however, can make them more painful, and failing to properly care for them can lead to infection.
What Causes Running Blisters?
When our body temperature rises from the effort of running, our feet swell causing repeated rubbing between the shoe, sock, and skin.
When the skin becomes damaged due to the friction, a clear fluid bubble forms on the outermost layer of the skin to protect the bottom layers from infection.
The two main culprits of blisters in runners are due to:
1. Friction Caused by Improper Shoe Fit
Shoes that are too big cause your feet to swim around inside them and rub against the shoe.
On the flipside, shoes that are too small or have laces tied too tightly can result in blisters as well. Finding a shoe that fits just right will reduce friction. You can also learn how to change your shoe lacing to prevent things like heel blisters and arch blisters.
2. Running in Wet Conditions
Rain, mud, snow will all soften the skin, making it more prone to pesky blisters.
On top of that, since your body is producing heat and sweat, the conditions inside your shoe are humid, creating a perfect environment for blisters.
Other Common Causes
All of these cause your foot to move different in the shoe and often create what are called hot spots.
Where do runners get blisters?
The most common locations of running blisters:
- In between toes
- On top of toes
Is it Ok to Run with Blisters?
For the most part yes, once you’ve addressed the issue (read treating blisters below) and done what you can to protect the areas you should be fine. The exception is if you’ve gotten to the point where it looks infected.
The tips below will help to address how to keep running once you’ve already gotten a dreaded blister, as well as how to prevent them from happening again.source
7 Ways to Prevent Blisters While Running
Depending on the type of running you’re doing, blisters can be easily avoided with the right gear and knowledge.
1. Wear the Right Shoes
Before you take a single step, go to your local running store to get properly fitted for a pair or running shoes.
Why? There is no one pair of shoes that fits perfectly. Each one may hit a hot spot or provide support differently, so by rotating your running shoes between at least two pairs, your feet will never become accustomed to one particular fit that could be causing problems.
Also keep in mind that your feet will swell when you run. It’s a good idea to go a size or two up to accommodate for the extra space your feet will need once they warm up.
Race Day Tip
Take at least two weeks to break in a new pair of shoes, otherwise you may just be asking for a few hours of pain
The other reason your shoes matter so much is it helps to prevent black toenails from running.
2. Use Powders and Lubricants
Since blisters are a form of chafing, lubricating vulnerable areas before you head out for your run will reduce, if not eliminate painful blisters from sprouting in the first place.
✅ My go to lubricant is Gold Bond Friction Defense.
Yup, I like it better than the much talked about Bodyglide.
You’ll often see petroleum jelly-based lubricants like Vaseline handed out during races, but I’m not a fan. They don’t last long and they can stain clothing.
Alternatively, you can reduce the chance of a blister forming by using powders like Arm and Hammer Foot Powder. Powders will help absorb moisture caused by sweat and other wet conditions.
3. Cover Hotspots with Tape and Bandages
If you’re prone to blisters, try using tapes or bandages especially designed for blisters on your hotspot areas.
- Medical tape can do the trick.
- Duct tape is a great choice during a race, thanks to its strong bond and smooth surface. Though KT Tape is going to be much easier to get off without pain later!
- Moleskin is often reported as magical stuff for blister-prone areas. It’s a thick bandage made from flannel that provides a cushion between your foot and shoe. (personally I didn’t have much luck with it)
- Compeed is a newer brand making waves because it can protect and speed the healing process. I actually carry this in my hydration pack now for trail runs.
- Avoid using a regular old Band Aid, as they don’t provide the same protection and tend to come off easily.
By now you also know I’m a huge fan of taping for all kinds of things, but physio tape can also work for blisters. This Rock Tape Blister Kit I think is a great option. It’s more like nylon so it rolls easily over the foot and will come off more easily later.
4. Keep Your Calluses
If you get regular pedicures, request that they leave your calluses alone. This hard skin serves as natural blister protection.
If you can’t stand them, then simply avoid getting a pedicure in the weeks leading up to your race. Save the treat for afterward.
5. Wear Blister-Free Running Socks
Socks are such a crucial part of the blister prevention equation, they get their own section. In fact, I consider them to be my most important piece of running gear. The wrong sock can make or break your run.
The first rule of sock buying?
Do not wear cotton socks. Never. Ever. Nope. Never.
Instead, look for moisture-wicking socks. This feature will eliminate the friction, pull and redistribute moisture, and keep feet cool, all of which will significantly reduce the potential for a blister and are worth EVERY PENNY.
I’ve tried a ton of running socks over the years and these are my picks for the best blister-free socks:
- Balega Blister Resist is my top pick right now! It’s literally created to help prevent blisters, with it’s anti-friction technology and materials. Plus I love that there is no toe seam because that’s always a weird potential hot spot on race day. However, this is a thicker sock.
- Injinji socks are great for those who tend to get blisters in between their toes. Though do note they could mean your foot needs a tad more space in that toe box. These are what my husband has found to work best for him!
- Smart Wool and Darn Tough make the best merino wool socks out there. The great thing about merino wool is that it keeps your feet warm even if you have to run through a stream on a cold day.
6. Toughen Your Feet Up Gradually Through Training
When you first start running, you might experience more blisters but that will gradually get better as you keep going.
This is because the skin of your feet is a lot softer when you first start, which can lead to more blisters. As your skin gets tougher, this should gradually reduce.
It’s recommended you toughen your feet gradually over time through training.
- Increase mileage gradually: By gradually increasing your mileage, you’ll help your feet develop protective calluses instead of blisters. It will also decrease your risk of injury in general.
- Moisturize your calluses: Once you notice calluses forming, moisturize them after showering every time with a good foot cream to keep them from drying out. This will prevent your calluses from turning into painful cracks.
7. Try Wearing Cushioned Insoles
A study published in ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal in 2013 shows that wearing cushioned insoles may reduce the risk of getting a blister by 25%.
Cushioned insoles are also great for making running more comfortable in general, so they’re definitely a great option if you’re prone to blisters.
There are some great insoles on the market that I highly recommend. You can read all about them in my guide on running insoles.
How to Treat Blisters Properly
Most blisters heal on their own in 2-3 days to up to a week. The biggest trick is catching them as soon as you feel them and protecting them once they do appear.
Treating a blister is pretty straightforward:
- Wash the blister and apply a bandage or gauze and tape.
- You may also want to protect the blister further using moleskin.
- Wear sandals if the weather permits, otherwise wear a shoe that doesn’t rub where the blister has formed.
- If it really hurts to run, you may want to take a day or two off until the pain subsides. You’re prone to additional blisters during this stage, so run at your own risk!
When to Pop a Blister
It’s oh so tempting to pop those nasty buggers, however it’s not recommended, except under certain situations:
- If the blister is at risk of rupturing itself
- If you’re in the middle of a race and the pain is too much.
How to Safely Drain a Blister?
To minimize risk of infection, follow the steps below. If you are in the middle of a race, go to the nearest aid station and have the medical team do it for you.
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
- Sterilize a needle or safety pin using rubbing alcohol and a clean cotton pad.
- Gently puncture the blister in several spots, trying to stay as close to the base of the skin as possible.
- Absorb the liquid inside with a different clean cotton pad.
- Apply antibacterial ointment such as Neosporin to the affected area.
- Cover the blister with a bandage or gauze and medical tape.
- Change the bandage and reapply ointment twice daily.
Avoid running with an open blister because the mix of sweat, humidity, and friction can cause infection.
When to Call a Doctor?
It’s rare to have to call a doctor over something as common as a blister, but they can and do get infected. If you see any of the following, give your doc a call as soon as you notice:
- Opaque fluid inside of an intact blister indicates infection
- The drained fluid smells bad or looks like pus, rather than water
- Pus or redness appear after the fluid has been drained
All right there are a few other foot issues that befall runners, so if blisters aren’t your only issue check these out:
What are your tried and true tricks for preventing blisters?
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