There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Runners’ feet take a beating. Whether you’re logging double-digit miles for marathon training, powering through some hill sprints, or even just taking it easy on a long, slow jog (sometimes through mud, slush, and puddles on your favorite trail), your feet bear the brunt of the pounding that running requires.
So it’s no surprise that some of the most common injuries that can knock runners off their feet have to do with their, well, feet. Injuries like stress fractures, plantar fasciitis (inflammation along the heel that can lead to pain), or tendinitis can seriously hamper your running routine, and also just suck.
And here’s another one to add to the list: the blister. While its long-term implications are likely not as serious as something like a stress fracture—which can sideline you for weeks or even months—blisters on your feet can still wreak serious havoc on your running game.
“The main problem after blister formation is pain,” James Koo, D.P.T., physical therapy supervisor at NYU Langone’s Sports Performance Center, tells SELF. But in order to avoid pain from the blister, some runners may develop what he calls “compensatory movement strategies”—basically changing your gait to try to avoid aggravating the blister—which can hamper your performance and possibly even lead to overuse injuries. Yikes.
We asked nine podiatrists, sports medicine docs, exercise physiologists, and physical therapists for their best tips on how to keep your feet healthy, happy, and blister-free. Here’s what you need to know.
Why does running cause blisters, anyway?
Chances are you’ve had a blister at one point of your life—whether attributed to pounding the pavement or just walking around in too-tight dress shoes for one hour too many—but did you ever wonder what they actually are?
Put simply, “a blister is a raised area of skin filled with clear fluid,” David M. Smith, M.D., a sports medicine physician at the University of Kansas Health System, tells SELF. “They are caused by friction or pressure on the upper layer of skin sliding against a deeper area of skin.”
When you’re running, tight shoes and pressure points from bones on your feet close to the surface of your skin are typically to blame, since they cause repetitive rubbing of these layers of skin, he explains. The body’s response to this is to form a bubble of clear, watery fluid between the layers of your skin to help reduce tissue damage and promote healing.