How Runners Can Prevent and Treat Foot Blisters

Tips for Runners

woman walking in woods with tape on back of foot to prevent blisters


Most runners have had at least one run or race ruined because of a painful foot blister. By knowing the usual causes and symptoms you can take steps to prevent them. If you get a blister despite your efforts, you will need to know how to safely treat it.

Causes of Foot Blisters

Blisters on the feet are usually caused by friction, typically between your skin and your sock. Excessive moisture due to sweaty feet or wet conditions can soften your skin, making it more susceptible to friction and blisters. Wearing running shoes that are too small or tied way too tight can cause blisters. But so can wearing shoes that have a sloppy fit and allow too much movement of your foot.

Preventing Blisters From Running

Consider these factors to help prevent foot blisters from running:

  • Find good socks: Buy socks specifically made for running, such as WrightSocks or synthetic-fiber (not cotton) brands, like CoolMax to wick moisture. Running socks are anatomically shaped, preventing the bunching up that causing blisters. Buy smooth socks with no seams. Some runners wear double-layer socks keep friction between the two sock layers.
  • Get the right shoe fit: Your feet swell when you run, so your running shoe should be at least a half of a size bigger than your street shoe. You should have a little room in your toebox. You can learn to lace your shoes for a better fit so your foot doesn't move around too much within the shoe.
  • Keep your calluses: If you go for a pedicure, make sure they don't remove your calluses with a razor or emery board. The callused skin serves as blister protection for your feet. If it's removed, you'll be more at risk for blisters.
  • Try tape or pads: Some runners put moleskin or athletic tape over "hot spots" on their feet that are prone to blisters, as a preventive measure. If you do this, just make sure the moleskin or tape is applied smoothly (no wrinkles) and is not too tight.
  • Use lubricant: You can also spread a lubricant such as BodyGlide or Vaseline on problem areas. Go easy as too much can allow your foot to slide around in your shoes.

Signs and Symptoms

You've probably seen foot blisters before. They are small bubbles of skin filled with clear fluid. They can appear anywhere on your foot but are more common in areas where there is the most rubbing (toes, heel, and ball of the foot). Some are painless, but others can be extremely painful—enough to cause you to stop your run.

Sometimes, by the time you check your feet, the blister will have burst and you may have a raw spot that may or may not bleed.

Treatment for Running Blisters

The first choice for treating foot blisters is to just leave it alone. The skin serves as protection from infection. Small blisters will either break and drain or will reabsorb in a day or so.

If you need to continue running, cover the blister with a bandage to provide more protection. If you have the supplies, you could also create a doughnut-shaped protective covering from moleskin.

If you're running in a race, such as a marathon, and you develop a painful blister, stop at one of the medical stations. They'll be able to treat your blister and hopefully get you back in the race. If the blister is painful or at risk of bursting on its own, you can choose to drain it while leaving the skin intact.

You should sterilize a needle by wiping it with rubbing alcohol, passing it through a flame, or boiling it for five to 10 minutes in water. Carefully pierce the blister at points around its edges. Press the fluid out and use an antiseptic cream on it. Cover the area with a product such Band-Aid Blister Block or moleskin to protect against infection and provide cushioning.

Change the bandage daily and check the blister for signs of infection such as redness and pus. See a doctor if you see any signs of infection. If you have diabetes, you are more at risk of an infection and you will need to take extra care.

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Article Sources
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  1. How to prevent and treat blisters. American Academy of Dermatology.

Additional Reading
  • Blisters: First Aid. Mayo Clinic.