Slipping on a new pair of flats or heels, it’s safe to assume you’re going to end up with a blister at the end of the day. Runners have the same expectation—that guaranteed foot unhappiness will ensue—after a long run or a few months training for a race.
While spending lots of time on your feet in any situation can lead to some nagging pain, there are some special things about running that doom your dogs. “There’s a sheer repetitive nature to running, where you’re constantly doing the exact same motion over and over and over again,” Lori Weisenfeld, D.P.M., a New York City sports podiatrist, tells SELF. “Also, we sweat a lot when running, and sweat and friction combined are not the best combo.” And here’s a reason to dislike hills even more: “Even if it’s not a monumental one, slightly going up or down puts stresses between [your shoes] and your feet.” All these factors combined make runners particularly prone to some gnarly foot problems.
Wearing a good pair running sneakers that fit you properly is your first line of defense. “The proper sneaker is absolutely essential when you’re running,” Weisenfeld says. But if we’re being honest, even the most perfect pair of kicks won’t make you immune to runners’ feet. Here’s how to handle the most common issues.
Plain and simple, blisters are caused by friction. If you’re prone to them, it means your foot is moving around too much in your shoe. This could be because you’re not wearing the right size, or you’re not wearing the right socks. Weisenfeld says to look for sport-specific socks with a lot of cushioning and made with synthetic materials (not 100 percent cotton or wool “because that will absorb the moisture but not allow it to evaporate”). She recommends the running socks from Thorlo. If you get blisters in between your toes, try rubbing Vaseline in between them before slipping into your socks, or use a blister block stick like Body Glide Foot Anti Blister Balm ($7, target.com).
If a blister is tense and painful, Weisenfeld suggests draining it with a sharp, sterilized instrument. “On the roof of the blister but close to where it attaches to the skin, lance the blister so all the fluid comes out.” If you use a tiny pinhole, it will most likely seal up and fill up again, she adds, so use something a little thicker so it can fully drain. Just don’t rip the top layer of skin off—no matter how temping it is. “It acts as the body’s natural biologic dressing for the blister, so the best thing to do is leave that in place.” If a blister elicits a throbbing pain or turns red, it could be a sign of infection.
If this hardened mass of skin tends to build up on your heels, it’s probably from the edge of your shoe rubbing against the back of your foot. If your callus resides on the side of your big toe, it can be from wearing too-tight shoes or your running form, Weisenfeld explains. “If you over-pronate, your arches roll inward and as that happens, you’re rolling onto the big toe when you’re pushing off.” Over time, a big ol’ callus can form.
If calluses are a problem for you, make sure your shoes are wide enough across the front so there’s no pinching. Weisenfeld also recommends switching to a more supportive and stabilizing shoe to stop your foot from rolling, and wearing good running socks that wick away sweat and reduce friction. They might not look so great in sandals, but calluses are usually harmless and shouldn’t be painful. If they’re bothering you, Weisenfeld recommends gently filing them down with a pumice stone twice a week in the shower and moisturizing with a foot cream like ProFoot Heel Rescue Foot Cream ($12, amazon.com). If one hurts, it could be that a blister has formed underneath. It could also be a corn or a wart, not actually a callus. If a callus is dry, red, and cracking, it could be a sign of chronic athlete’s foot. All these scenarios deserve attention from a podiatrist.
3. Thickened toenails
Ever notice your toenails seem thicker and harder to cut than they used to? That’s their response to the constant banging and pressing against your shoes. “Nails will respond to constant repetitive trauma by thickening up,” Weisenfeld explains. If you’ve had some bruising, sometimes the nail will start to regrow before the old one has grown out or fallen off, causing an unnatural thickness. This can also be confused for fungus, so if your nails appear very thick and dense, see a foot doc to make sure it’s not something that needs to be treated with antibiotics. They may want to thin the nail out, too, especially if it’s causing you pain or discomfort.
4. Black toenails
Oftentimes, a bruised, black toenail is often the result of ill-fitting sneaks. “If shoes are old and floppy and stretched out, your toes are more likely to start slipping and jamming into front of the shoe,” Weisenfeld says. This trauma can cause bruising between the nail and the nail bed. “Once blood or even clear blister fluid gets under the toenail, it separates the nail from the nail bed and it won’t reattach. In that spot, the nail is dead.” If your entire nail is black, a full new toenail will eventually grow in. Weisenfeld says it takes about a year for a new big toenail to completely grow in.
If the nail hurts, you can try to drain the blood, but this may be best left to a physician or podiatrist. “It won’t save the nail, but it will relieve pressure and pain. “To stop feet from sliding as you pound the pavement, try an insole that molds to your feet and locks them in place like ProFoot 2 oz. Miracle Custom Molding Insoles ($7, dugstore.com). If you ever just have a persistent black spot on your nail and there’s no pain, visit a podiatrist to rule out skin cancer.
5. Ingrown toenails
An ingrown nail looks (and feels) like the nail is piercing the flesh around it. “Your body doesn’t care it’s a nail, it just knows something’s poking that doesn’t belong there, so it acts like it’s a foreign body,” Weisenfeld explains, leading to pain and infection. Running isn’t the most common cause of ingrown toenails, but if you’re prone to them, it can make things worse: An ill-fitting shoe and repetitive pressure on your big toe can push it into the skin around it, especially if your nail tends to curve downward. You should never try to remove an ingrown nail yourself—it can seriously damage it and make it become more infected (talk about gnarly)—so be sure to book an appointment with a podiatrist to get it taken care of.