How Runners Can Prevent and Treat Foot Blisters

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

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Most runners have had at least one run or race ruined because of a painful foot blister. It kind of comes with the territory. However, that doesn't mean that we have to stand by and allow them to form. Here's a bit about what causes running blisters, how to prevent them, and what treatments work best should one appear.

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, such as your toes, heel, the ball of your foot, or the sole.

Some running blisters are painless while others can be extremely painful—enough to cause you to stop your run. You may even notice (or feel) a "hot spot" or warm, red spot beforehand that serves as a warning that a blister is about to appear.

Sometimes, by the time you check your feet, the blister has burst, leaving you with a raw spot that may or may not bleed. If bacteria gets in, infection can occur. Signs of a running blister infection include swelling, redness, warmth to the area, drainage, pus, and pain.

Causes of Running Blisters

Blisters on the feet are usually caused by friction, typically between your skin and your sock, insole, or shoe. This friction causes the top layers of the skin to separate from the layer below them, creating a pocket that fills with fluid similar to plasma.

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

Blister Treatment

If you get a running blister, treatment can be at one of two times: either immediately during the run or after the run is over. The blister treatment method changes depending on which one you choose.

Treat a Blister During a Run

If you need to continue running, such as if you're running a race, stop long enough to securely cover the blister with a bandage to provide more protection. If you have supplies in your running belt, you could also create a doughnut-shaped protective covering from moleskin.

If you're in a marathon or half-marathon and 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, they may choose to drain it while leaving the skin intact.

Follow-Up Blister Care

The first choice for treating foot blisters after a run is to simply leave them alone. The skin serves as protection from infection. Small blisters will either break and drain or will reabsorb in a day or so. Cover the area to protect it and keep it clean.

The only time you should pop or drain a blister is if it is large or extremely painful. To do this, sterilize a small needle by wiping it with rubbing alcohol. Carefully pierce the blister at the edge of one side. Press the fluid out, then wash the area with soap and water. Leave the blister skin intact to protect the raw skin below it.

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

Prevention

The best blister is the one that is prevented. This helps you avoid the pain and discomfort altogether, keeping you in the race. Therefore, consider these factors to help prevent foot blisters from running:

  • Find good socks: Buy socks specifically made for running, preferably made from acrylic, polyester, or propylene (not cotton or wool) to better wick away the moisture. Running socks are anatomically shaped, preventing the bunching up that causes blisters, or you might want to buy smooth socks with no seams. Some runners wear double-layer socks to keep the 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 also learn to lace your shoes for a better fit so your feet don't move around too much within your shoes.
  • Wear cushioned insoles. Studies show that cushioned insoles can reduce the chances of a blister forming by 25%. These insoles might also improve your running comfort as well, making them worth trying out.
  • Keep your calluses: If you go for a pedicure, don't allow them to remove your calluses with a razor or emery board. The callused skin serves as blister protection for your feet. If it is removed, you'll be more at risk for blisters.
  • Try tape or pads: Some runners put moleskin or athletic tape over "hot spots" on the areas of 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 or powder: 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. Another option is to dust powder on your feet before your run to help reduce the friction that leads to blisters. Research has found that applying antiperspirant to these areas works too.
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7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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