For frequent runners, blisters can cause irritation and discomfort. Our expert reveals how to prevent them
Q: I’ve recently started to get blisters on the balls of my feet each time I run (usually for around an hour, twice a week). I didn’t experience any problems when I ﬁrst took up running last summer, gradually upping my distance from 5k to 10k over the winter. My legs don’t get tired and I want to run further, but the blister pain is holding me back. I run in thick cotton socks – and at the moment, plasters! Are there any padded-style running socks that would make a difference?
Or could it be down to my running style, or the trainers I wear? I try to use a foot ﬁle and moisturise but it’s often something I forget to do after a shower and the skin on the soles of my feet can get very hard. Any suggestions or advice would be most welcome, thank you.
A: Blisters can be a frustrating and painful hindrance to runners, affecting performance and sometimes seeing a temporary end to training. But they are actually a protective mechanism of the body, preventing damage to the tissues underlying the skin surface. They form when there is friction or abrasion to the skin.
The difficulty sometimes can be in pinpointing the cause of this. For you, it is clear something has changed recently that wasn’t a problem when you were building up your distance last year.
It is helpful to identify some potential triggers, as eliminating these can hopefully see an end to the problem. Firstly, have a look at your trainers. We should be thinking about changing our trainers every 300-500 miles. This is a rough guide, as there are lots of factors which influence how long our trainers last, such as the terrain we run on.
By my calculations, you should have at least changed your trainers once since you started running last summer. Trainers which don’t fit correctly will create friction on your feet and cause blisters, so make sure your next pair are tailored to your feet – visit a specialist running store for this.
Secondly, have a look at your socks. Swap your cotton socks for synthetic socks, which wick moisture away from the skin. Cotton socks hold moisture against the skin, which then softens the skin, and makes it more susceptible to friction damage. Specialist running socks, with extra padding around the areas of the foot most exposed to friction, can make a difference and are certainly worth a try.
Thirdly, have a look at what products are available over the counter. There are several topical lubricants that you can buy, which you can cover your feet in before your run. The theory behind these is that they reduce friction at the skin surface. Similarly, there are tapes and plasters available, which can help absorb some of the friction at the skin surface. These are applied to those hot spots which are prone to blister formation.
Finally, when blisters develop, try to avoid the temptation to burst them. That fluid inside them is sterile, and is protecting the underlying healing tissues.
If the blister does burst, keep the area as clean and dry as you can. Best of luck!
Dr Yvette Brindle is a General Practitioner in Chester. She is trained in women’s health and has a keen interest in running, ﬁtness well-being, weight control and nutrition. She enjoys running with her local group and entering races for charity.