Running Blisters: Ways to Prevent + Causes and Treatment

Blisters are a common complaint of walkers and runners. If you have just started walking or running, switched to a different walking or running shoe, or have increased the duration of your workouts, you may get blisters on your feet.

It’s common for runners to have them, but they’re not a requirement to become part of the running group. Do not accept that they are simply something to be endured.

They can be easily preventable with the right gear.

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. A blister is a fluid-filled sac caused by friction (or heat from a burn).

Walkers and runners dread them, but there are ways to prevent most foot blisters. You can eliminate sources of rubbing in your shoes, toughen and protect your skin, keep your feet cool and dry, and be alert for hot spots that will turn into blisters if not treated.

What Do Blisters Look and Feel Like?

Blisters related to running may include tiny bumps of skin which contain either clear fluid or, sometimes, could also display redness or bruising. It is also possible for the blood vessels beneath your toenails to swell, potentially leading to them bursting if pressure is applied and your toenails becoming discoloured black.

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 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.

In contrast, wearing shoes that are too small or that have laces that are tied too tightly could lead to the formation of blisters. Getting the correct size shoe is essential to prevent rubbing. You can also find out how to tie your laces differently so that you don’t get heel and arch blisters.

2. Running in Wet Conditions

Rain, mud, and 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

Other possible triggers can be running on non-even surfaces, such as pathways and inclines, as well as medical conditions, such as bunions, heel spurs, and hammertoes. These changes to your foot’s movements while in the shoe can result in the development of something referred to as “hot spots”.

How to Prevent Blisters 

You can prevent blisters by addressing the likely culprit. Causes of blisters include:

  • Friction: Friction between your skin and your sock, shoe, or insole can cause pockets of plasma-filled fluid to form when the top skin layers begin to separate.
  • Moisture: Moisture from sweat or rainy, soggy conditions makes the skin more likely to feel friction and develop blisters.
  • Ill-fitting shoes: Shoes that don’t fit properly (too loose or too tight) can cause friction, pinching, and irritation to the skin.

Get the Right Shoes 

Shoes are often the source of blisters. Regardless of whether you have regular walking shoes or motion-control shoes, you may get blisters.

Blisters are due to friction where your toes, heels, and the sole of your foot rub against the shoe. Everyone’s feet are different shapes and sizes, and there is no single shoe that will be right for every foot. Finding the size and shape of the shoe that works for you can help prevent blisters.

Going on a hike in your new shoes may result in some blisters as they still rub against your skin in areas that they haven’t before. Any shoe can be a source of blisters when initially worn until your feet become accustomed to the fit.

Solution: Get a shoe that fits well so your heel isn’t slipping and your toes are not rubbing against the front of the shoe. Take it slow and only go on short walks or runs with new pairs of shoes, even if they are the same brand and model you have been wearing. Build up your mileage and speed in each pair of shoes.

Tight shoes: With a small toe box, your toes are up against the side or back of the shoe. This can result in the discolouration of toes and even the loss of toenails following a lengthy long walk or run.

Solution: Your shoes should have a finger’s width of space between the end of your toe and the end of your shoes to allow your feet to expand while exercising. Select shoes of the proper width for your foot so that your toes have enough room.

Feet sliding: If your shoes are too loose and your feet slide forward and back within the shoe with each step, you are adding extra blister-causing friction. You may also get a black toenail in this scenario.

Solution: You want your feet to have enough room to expand when you walk, but not enough to slide around. Wear a thicker sock to take up some of the extra space. Learn how to lace your shoes to keep your heel in the heel cup with each step rather than sliding forward. If you still seem to have too much space, buy shoes that fit better.

Rough edges: The seams and the edge of the insole can rub against your foot or toes.

Solution: Change styles of shoes or insoles. Some shoes are designed to be seamless inside. You can also try heat-moulded insoles (available at some running stores) that will cradle your feet just right. If you can’t avoid rough spots, lubricate or cover the skin next to the rough edge.

Toughen Your Feet 

A newbie is called a tenderfoot for good reason. Your soft feet will have fewer blisters when your skin gets a little tougher.

Add distance gradually. Help your feet develop protective calluses instead of blisters by gradually building up your walking or running time.

Moisturize away heel cracks. To keep your calluses from drying out too much and developing painful cracks, moisturize your feet after each bath or shower with good foot cream or hand cream.

Toughen with tannins. Some marathoners and long-distance walkers toughen their feet with 10% tannic acid or a tea soak (tea contains tannins).

Wear the Right Socks 

Forget cotton socks—stick with synthetics. Cotton retains sweat, which then softens your skin and leaves it more prone to breaking and blistering with friction.

Avoid seams that rub. Check where the sock seams are hitting your toes. Is that where you are getting blisters? Some running socks are specially designed to keep the seams away from the feet. Tube socks are not recommended as your feet are not tube-shaped, and these socks simply won’t fit right.

Change your socks en route. Many marathoners recommend changing their socks whenever their feet get wet due to rain, or at the halfway point of a marathon.

Get the right thickness. Experiment with the thickness of your socks. If your socks are so thick that your toes have no room in the shoe, you need bigger shoes or thinner socks. To ensure a correct fit when buying shoes, bring along the thickness of the sock you plan to wear for your workouts and activities.

Invest in good socks. With some athletic socks running from £5 to £15 plus a pair, it can be painful to stock up. But good socks can last much longer than cheap ones and save you money in the long run.

Wear double layers. Double-layer socks can prevent blisters by reducing friction and wicking away moisture. Some double-layer socks, such as WrightSocks, even come with a no-blister guarantee. You can also wear two pairs of socks, which is a common tactic for hikers. The inner sock or inner layer of the sock should be of sweat-wicking fabric.

Wick away moisture. Synthetic socks made of acrylic, polypropylene, or CoolMax fabric wick moisture away from the foot, keeping it dry. These are available at sports stores. Some socks incorporate Teflon to prevent friction.

Lubricate Your Feet Often 

Friction—the rubbing motion between the foot, sock, and shoe—creates heat and tearing forces, making the skin prone to blisters. If you reduce the friction, you reduce the blisters. One way to reduce friction is by lubricating your feet, so they slide rather than rub. Experiment with different products to find which ones work best for you.

Petroleum jelly: Vaseline or petroleum jelly is an inexpensive lubricant often recommended for marathon runners and walkers. Note that it won’t easily wash out of your socks, and it makes dirt cling to your socks. That can mean there is more grit in your shoe to irritate your foot, which could, in turn, cause more blisters.

A&D Ointment: This preparation is thicker than petroleum jelly and is available wherever baby diapers are sold. It’s another inexpensive way to lubricate your feet.

Sports lubricants: Found at running stores, products such as Body Glide, RunGoo, Sportslick, and SportShield may roll on like deodorant or come in a hand tube. They vary in the formulation; some are petroleum-free and use plant waxes, liquid silicone, or powdered silicone. Use these products to prevent chafing in other areas as well.

Keep Your Feet Dry 

Keeping your feet dry starts with wicking socks, but you can also use other strategies. A military study showed that using a special heavy-duty antiperspirant on the feet reduced the incidence of blisters. While regular antiperspirant is less concentrated, some runners use it for the same purpose.

Or, sprinkle plain cornstarch (just like you use in cooking) in your socks and shoes to help keep your feet dry. Reapply it at least once in a long-distance event. Baby powder and talcum powder also act to keep the feet dry, and they smell good too.

Cover Problem Spots 

If you have a spot that is prone to blistering or have developed a hot spot, cover it to help protect it. There are several options, including sports tape, moleskin, gel bandages, paper tape, and special patches. In a pinch, you might even put duct tape to work.

The drawback of covering the area is that often these bandages and pads don’t stay where you’ve put them, especially as you continue walking or running. You may have to try various kinds to find the one that sticks best for you. As always, prevention is the best solution for a blister.

Keep Your Calluses 

Calluses are toughened areas of skin that can develop over a blister-prone area. They are your body’s way of preventing further damage to the skin. They are a natural protective reaction your skin has to increase friction. Do not pick them or file them off, as you’ll be risking further blistering.

Wear Cushioned Insoles 

Research shows that cushioned insoles may reduce the risk of getting a blister by 25%. Cushioned insoles might make running more comfortable as well, so try them out if you are blister-prone.

Is it Ok to Run with Blisters?

For the most part yes, once you’ve addressed the issue 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.


Don’t let blisters stop you in your tracks. Before the extended physical activity, dedicate time to moisturizing and shielding your tootsies. Put on the pair of shoes and socks that will be most beneficial in avoiding blisters. Pay attention to your feet’s sensations and don’t overlook any signs of areas becoming inflamed; keep blister items with you to address the issue right away.


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