How‌ ‌to‌ ‌Deal‌ ‌with‌ ‌Blisters‌ ‌on‌ ‌Your‌ ‌Feet‌ ‌From‌ ‌Running‌

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When you run, your feet take a beating. Did you know that they endure up to 4 times your body weight? Even with good running shoes, the friction between your shoe, sock, and skin can cause that all-too-familiar stinging pain.

Here’s our guide on how to deal with blisters on your feet from running. Almost every runner has had to manage blisters at some point.

Knowing what—and what not—to do can make the difference between healing quickly or dealing with blisters for weeks.

What Causes Blisters When Running?

Blisters are caused by friction between your skin and your running socks or shoes. When your feet are wet from sweat or rain, there’s extra friction. To try and protect its sensitive inner tissues from this friction, the skin accumulates fluid in the area and, voila, a blister.

Too-small shoes can cause this blister-inducing friction with no room to move and rub against the skin; too-big shoes leave your foot slipping around as you run and sweating, increasing that friction.

Recognizing the Early Signs of Blisters

Catching a blister early can make all the difference when treating it. Pay attention, and if you notice any of these signs, you might already be on your way to a blister.

Hotspots

Notice any strange warmth in your shoes as you run? This “hotspot” is often a sign that a blister is beginning to form where there’s extra friction.

Tingling or Itching

Tingling, itching, or unusual numbness could be another sign of friction. As material rubs against the skin, it can cause strange sensations as it rubs the top layer of the skin raw.

Pain or Discomfort

Notice if there’s pain in any particular part of your foot. This is a clear sign that there’s some kind of damage to the skin. If it’s discomfort but hasn’t progressed to pain yet, it could be a sign of what’s to come.

Redness or Swelling

Redness is a sign that something’s going on in that particular area of the skin. Swelling is your body’s response to repeated irritation. These both might be most noticeable at the back of the heel.

Excess Moisture

Feet feeling more sweaty than usual? This could also indicate an impending blister, as excess moisture can double up on friction.

“Uh-Oh, It’s Happened”: First Aid for Fresh Blisters

So you missed the signs and found a new blister on your foot during or after a run. Here’s our tried-and-true first-aid advice for treating a new blister.

Stop Running

If you figure out that you’ve developed a blister halfway through your run, STOP. Continuing to run with it will only cause more damage to the skin and introduce the possibility of infection on top of it.

Cut your run short and treat the blister ASAP. If you’re mid-race, it’s tempting to push through the pain and discomfort to finish the race in your best time. However, doing so without treating the blister first (when you notice the symptoms) can lead to worse outcomes.

If you keep running with a blister, the friction that caused the blister in the first place will continue, rubbing you even more raw. If the blister pops, there’s also a high chance of it becoming infected since dirt and sweat can get into the wound.

Don’t Pop It!

This is as tempting, but trust us, leave it alone. The pressure built up under the blister causes pain, so we know it’s tempting to pop it to relieve it.

But popping the blister leaves you with an open wound, a magnet for bacteria and significantly increases your chance of infection. Avoid the urge and move onto the next step.

Make Sure Your Hands Are Clean

Even if you haven’t popped the blister, clean your hands before touching it. The skin is raw, damaged, and sore, so only touch it with clean hands.

Clean the Blister

Wash the blister and the skin around it with lukewarm water and an antibacterial soap if possible. Alcohol wipes can also be a great way to clean a blister, but be very cautious if there’s broken skin.

Once it’s clean and there’s no dirt on or around it, pat it dry with a clean towel. Don’t rub it—this can damage the skin and lead to more pain.

Bandage and Protect It

Once dry, cover the blister with a band-aid or adhesive moleskin. This will provide a protective layer against more friction.

Keep the Blister Covered

We advise keeping the blister covered with a band-aid or dressing. You can change it once a day at least, or whenever it becomes dirty. You might need to keep a stash of band-aids handy in case.

If the Blister Pops

It happens! While we highly recommend NOT popping it yourself, sometimes they pop on their own. Here’s what to do.

Clean and Dry the Blister

Clean the blister with warm water and an antibacterial soap. It may hurt a little more if the blister’s open, but you must thoroughly clean it. Dry it by patting it lightly with a dry, clean towel.

Use Antibiotic Ointment

This is an important step. A popped blister is an open wound, so don’t neglect this step. Covering it with antibiotic ointment will protect the fragile skin, start the healing process, and reduce the chance of infection.

Keep an Eye on It for Signs of Infection

Keep a close eye on your blister in the coming days. If you experience pain, oozing, redness, swelling, or a warmth in the skin surrounding it, get yourself to a doctor. There’s a chance the wound may be infected.

Allow Time to Heal

Be patient. Blisters will heal fast if they’re given time. Don’t push yourself and give it the time it needs to heal fully because you put it through its paces again.

Pushing Through (or Not)

Technically, you can run with a blister. But it’s better to take a break and wait for it to heal. Not only is it going to be painful to introduce pressure and friction—even light friction—to the sensitive part of your foot, but you may inadvertently change your gait to accommodate your sore spot, potentially leading to worse issues.

If you accidentally tear the skin open, it’ll be much more at risk of infection as your sweat, dirty shoes, and polluted air are so close to the open skin.

Prevention: The First Step to Blissful Running

The good news is that blister prevention can be done. Follow these tips, and blisters could be a thing of the past!

Choose the Right Footwear

This is number one. A proper fit is essential for chafe-free running—there should be about a thumbnail’s width of space between your toe and the front of the shoe to accommodate for swelling and the movement of your feet within the shoe as you land.

Make sure the shoes are broken in before you slap them on and head out for a long run. This will give your feet some time to get used to the fit and feel. It’s a good idea to rotate your running shoes so none of them wear out too fast and start rubbing where they shouldn’t.

You might also want to consider removing or replacing the insoles of the shoes. They could be the reason for blisters developing if there’s not enough room in the shoe for your foot and the insole.

Socks Matter: The Magic of Moisture-Wicking Material

Your sock touches both your skin and the shoe, so there’s a lot of friction potential. A proper fit is also crucial here to prevent wrinkles in the sock, which are blister magnets.

Choose running-specific socks that aren’t too thick. It’s also a good idea to break in your socks before wearing new gear on a long run—just in case! We recommend choosing a moisture-wicking material, like Merino wool or polyester.

These will absorb the moisture—your sweat—and move it to the surface of the sock so it can easily evaporate, leaving your feet drier and more comfortable and reducing the chance of blisters forming.

Avoid cotton socks, which hang onto moisture and are a blister trap!

Prefer to go without socks? Some running shoes are designed to go sockless—consider a pair of these instead.

Add a Protective Layer With Balms or Creams

Chafe-free balms and creams can be a lifesaver. We recommend a roll-on for the feet—simply roll some onto the areas susceptible to rubbing and you’ll have a protective layer between your skin and your sock.

You can also use a band-aid, moleskin patch, or something similar to create a protective shield on vulnerable places. Whatever feels best to you!

Tape Blister-Prone Areas

If you’re in a pinch, you can use KT tape to form a protective layer on blister-prone spots. If you feel a blister starting and don’t have anything to ‘plaster” it with, consider your trusty KT tape or athletic tape.

Don’t Remove Any Calluses That Have Developed

If a blister has developed into a callus, avoid the temptation to remove it. This tough, dry skin develops as a protective response to repetitive friction. If you remove the callus, you’re only exposing soft skin that’s likely to blister again.

If you’ve developed a blister under a callus, you’ll need to be a little more careful in order to treat the blister.

When Should You Pop a Blister?

Although we recommend not popping a blister, in some cases, it might be more practical to do so. If the blister is making it hard for you to walk or run, or it’s extremely painful, you may consider popping it, but do so extremely carefully.

Wash it carefully beforehand, and use a sterile needle to pop it. Allow the fluid to drain, and then use an antibacterial cream, dress the blister, and monitor it for signs of infection. Change the dressing every day and give it time to heal.

When to Seek Medical Help

A blister might seem like a minor thing, but if not treated properly, they can result in complications. Consult a doctor immediately if:

  • There’s green or yellow pus oozing from the blister
  • You’re experiencing swelling, warmth, and redness
  • You’ve developed a fever and the blister is painful
  • The blister seems to have spread
  • It’s not beginning to heal after a few days to a week
  • You have any health conditions (like diabetes)
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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.