One of the most common issues that runners will run into (heh), is getting heel and toe blisters. Just like a hangnail or a canker sore, a painful blister can be a nuisance and, in the case of a blister, it can quickly ruin your run.
Typically, blisters are caused by friction between your toes, socks, or the heel of your shoe. They happen when something causes your foot to rub in a place where it normally wouldn’t. They can be super painful, especially if you let them get really irritated, by continuing to run with them or not properly caring for them, which can lead to infection.
Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to prevent blisters. And when they do inevitably happen despite all your best efforts (yep, happens to all runners along the way!), there are a few ways to treat blisters so you can get back on the road. Today I’m sharing how to prevent heel blisters from running shoes, what to do if you start to feel one come up, and a few products you can buy to help.
Let’s jump in!
Getting the right shoes is the most important aspect of running for many reasons, including preventing heel blisters. Ideally you should get fitted for your shoes by a professional at a local running store. Do NOT buy running shoes just because your friend has them, they are cute, or they are on sale. What the “best” or “right” running shoe will vary from person to person so you really have to try them on to know if they’ll work for you. What’s right for me may not be right for you.
One of the most common ways runners get blisters is by wearing running shoes that rub their feet. You’ll notice it almost instantly when you try out a pair of shoes. If they are rubbing AT ALL, they are not good shoes for you. For example, I love my Brooks Ghosts running shoes but Brooks Launch shoes do NOT work for me. I start to feel heat (a beginning sign of a blister!) in my heel almost immediately when I run in them. Whenever I’ve tried to run more than 3 miles in them, I get a heel blister every time. However, others LOVE the Launches. What shoes cause blisters will vary because everyone’s feet vary. This is why buying running shoes from a place with a good return policy is so important! You may not know until you try them out for a few runs so ask when you purchase what the return policy is.
Once you’ve picked the right shoes, you need to make sure you get the right size. There are a lot of people that will tell you that you need “break your running shoes in“, but I argue that you shouldn’t have to. You shouldn’t feel blisters forming after your first run in new shoes. If you do, they aren’t right for you (or you need different socks, more on that next).
I wear one full size up in running shoes compared to my normal shoes. Since your foot moves forward as you run, you don’t want your toes to curl at the end or hit the front of the shoe. You want to have enough space in the toe box for your feet to move and breathe. One size up is a good rule of thumb, and the person fitting you for the shoes should know this too.
However, you don’t want them too large or you may run into friction blisters. If your shoes are too big, your heel may slip, creating friction and leading to blisters. So again, get fitted in person! If you are prone to black toenails or losing toe nails, this may be an indicator that you’re in the wrong shoe size.
Socks have a much bigger impact than you might imagine. Not only do they protect your feet against the inside of the shoe, and keep your foot comfortable, but they also keep your feet dry, which is SUPER important. If you feet get wet, they’ll rub your shoes and get blisters. Dry feet = a better chance of being blister free.
Do NOT wear 100% cotton socks. You will regret it. Terribly. Cotton holds on to sweat and moisture, which leads to blisters. Additionally, since cotton slides more easily, they may rub and create hot spots, which will ALSO lead to blisters. No thanks. True running socks are made with synthetic material which wicks sweat away from your foot which keep them dry and prevents blisters.
See my roundup of best socks for runners here.
A heel lock — runners’s lock — is a specific way of lacing your shoes which keeps your foot in place and reduces the friction a little better than regular lacing does. This type of lacing keeps your shoe on your foot better than any other lacing I’ve tried. It helps your shoe feel snug and secure without being too tight, which can cause pain on the top of your foot.
I show you exactly how to do this in a video, here (or click the IG post below!)
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This tip is only helpful for runner’s that feel good in insoles. Just like I mentioned above in the “wear the right shoe” section, it’s all about what works well for you. I don’t wear insoles unless I’m recovering from certain injuries. However, I have running friends who wear them all the time since they find they help their knees. If you are someone who loves cushioned insoles or supportive inserts, the right pair can help prevent blisters, since it will change the fit of your shoe slightly.
I wouldn’t necessarily try insoles right away if you’re just experiencing blisters. Make sure you’re in the right shoes, wearing the right socks, and THEN try insoles for a third option, since insoles will change the way your shoes fit.
Some runners are just prone to blisters. Others get them more often when they’re running more miles or running faster than normal. The repetition and sheer amount of time in your running shoes can cause blisters, even if you’re taking all the right precautions. If this is the case, try putting moleskin on the on the hot spot where you feel a blister. You can buy this at any drug store or on Amazon here. It’s a sticker that’s strong enough to stick to your foot (even while it sweats), that has a super soft material on the other side, reducing the painful friction.
Another option is to use the Body Glide specifically made for feet. It’s an anti-blister balm that you rub on your feet before your runs. It’s only $8 and works great. In fact, I used this during the 2018 Boston Marathon as a precaution since it had the worst weather conditions on record and I did not get a SINGLE blister in the 26+ miles. That’s saying a LOT considering it rained the. whole. time.
If you’re in a pinch, vaseline will also work. I’ve never personally tried baby powder but some people swear by it to help keep feet dry, which reduces irritation.
While building calluses on your feet is really important, it’s just as important to take care of your feet. Whenever I get a pedicure, I ask the technician to leave my calluses but still scrub and moisturize my feet. Your feet have lots of layers of skin, so exfoliating them is a good thing, as long as you aren’t removing your calluses altogether.
The best product I’ve found for this is this exfoliating foot scrub. It comes with a stone to scrub with and a foot balm, which is the perfect combo for tired runner’s feet.
While blisters are one of the most annoying part of being a runner, they do come with the territory. Every runner has had a blister at one time or another. The very best thing you can do is stop running as soon as you feel it, and treat it. Make sure to wear a bandaid with your other shoes so that you don’t make it worse. And be patient. It will go away soon, and in the meantime, you can work on your stretching ;).
What are your tips for preventing blisters? Where do you experience them most often?
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