These are my feet after the third day running through the 70C sand of the Moroccan Sahara Desert. Could the blisters have been avoided with proper foot care, shoes and socks? Probably not. But most of us don’t run regularly in such adverse conditions so there is a lot we can do to avoid a ‘worst case’ scenario.
Blisters on the feet are typically caused by friction between your skin and your sock. Running shoes that are ill-fitting, laces tied too tight, too loose or not optimally tied for your unique foot structure can cause blisters. Sharp seams in the shoes, wrinkled socks or ill-fitting insoles can also be the culprit. Then if the skin is irritated by rubbing for a long period of time, fluid will collect under the skin, forming a blister.
Six basic precautions that should be taken to prevent foot blisters from forming while running:
1. Shoe Fit: As the saying goes… “If the shoe fits, wear it”. Proper shoe fit is critical. Since your feet swell when running, your shoe should have a little extra space in the toe box but not enough to move around too much.
2. Socks: Running socks are anatomically shaped, which help prevent the sock from bunching up, and they should have a smooth surface with no seams. Socks should be made of synthetic fiber instead of cotton so as to wick moisture away from your feet. Some runners wear double-layer socks which are designed to localize any friction between the two sock layers rather than between the sock and the skin. Toe socks can also be used with a similar principle. Wash new socks before use and be sure to ‘break them in’ as you would with new running shoes prior to testing them out in a race.
3. Lacing: There are different lacing techniques which can be used to support different foot forms, e.g. high arches, wide forefoot, or to avoid heel slippage. Read on for more details on lacing.
4. Lubricant: A lubricant such as BodyGlide or Vaseline can be applied to hot-spots to reduce friction in those specific areas. Tape or moleskin pads can be used in the same way.
5. Foot Care: Cut toenails regularly. Moisturize skin with an anti-callus cream. Do not remove calluses entirely as they are there to protect your feet.
6. Barefoot running: Consider integrating a barefoot session in your training plan to toughen up the skin on the feet. Even if you simply find a grassy athletic field to kick off your shoes and do some running drills back and forth, not only your skin, but the muscles in your feet will reap great benefit.
Since most of the points above are fairly straight-forward, let’s talk a bit about the one that may get the least amount of attention: lacing options.
Shoelaces are there to adjust shoe fit circumferentially, but they can easily come untied, loosen, or bind. Laces tied too loose can produce a poor stride, too tight can cause shoes to pinch. And since every every runner and every foot is different, there are (thankfully) unique ways of lacing up.
Window Lacing (a.k.a. “box lacing”) can be used if your running shoes are causing an uncomfortable pressure on the top of your foot. This technique is also used to accommodate high arches and wider feet.
1. Unlace the shoe down to the eyelet that is just below the pressure point.
2. Re-lace by going straight up to the next eyelet and then crossing the laces over.
3. Finish lacing the rest of your shoe in your usual way.
Loop Lacing Lock, (a.k.a. the “runner’s tie”) can be used to minimize heel slippage.
1. Lace to the second eyelet from the top using your preferred method.
2. Run lace ends straight up on the outside and in through top eyelet.
3. Cross lace ends, and then pass them under the opposing vertical section.
4. Tying the laces pulls the vertical sections inward for increased foot security.
Lydiard Lacing (a.k.a. “straight bar lacing” or “parallel lacing”), named after the legendary runner and coach, Arthur Lydiard, who developed the technique, can be used if the top of your shoes feel tight or bind.
1. Begin straight across on the outside and go in through the bottom eyelet.
2. The left lace end runs straight up on the inside, and then goes straight across on the outside.
3. Both lace ends run straight up the inside, each skipping an eyelet.
4. Both lace ends continue straight across on the outside and in through the adjacent eyelets.
5. Alternate until lacing is completed.
All of these methods can be found in more detail on the Internet, many with video tutorials.
And if all else fails and you do end up with a blister, here’s what to do about it.
The first alternative for treating foot blisters is to just leave it alone. When left intact, the skin serves as protection from infection and the blister will either break and drain or reabsorb in a day or two. But if you need to continue running, cover the blister with a tape or a bandage to provide protection.
If the blister is painful or at risk of bursting on its own, you can drain it while leaving the skin intact. Anyone who has had blisters underneath their toenails knows that the pain can be bad enough to keep you awake at night and you need to bite the bullet and pop it. To do this, you should sterilize a needle by wiping it with rubbing alcohol, placing it in a flame, or boiling it in water. Carefully pierce the blister at points around its edges. Or if it is underneath your nail, gently insert it into the area of greatest pain (yes). Then press the fluid out, use an antiseptic cream on it and cover it with a bandage. Clean and check daily for signs of infection.
This article first appeared on the ASICS FrontRunner DE Website on May 31, 2020