Wet and muddy feet after a trail run near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

How To Take Care of Your Feet for Running

Photo: Tobias MacPhee/ TandemStock

Running foot-care tips, from avoiding remedies to burning a hole through your toenail.

Running can take a toll on feet, and you really, really need your feet to stay happy and pain-free when you run. Common issues that hinder that happy-foot feeling include blisters, black or lost toenails, and cracked heels, on the exterior. Under the surface, the 20 muscles, 30 ligaments, and over 100 tendons within the foot could use some care, too. Focusing on prevention of common ailments for runners is one side of the foot-care equation covered below, while the other key advice centers on how best to treat them.

Prevent Blisters

Blisters are caused by any combination of friction, heat, or moisture. Since heat can cause moisture, friction can cause heat and moisture, and moisture can cause friction and, ultimately, heat, you don’t want any of one those factors affecting your feet.

To avoid friction:

  • Keep junk, like tiny pebbles, sticks, and dirt, out of your socks.
  • Make sure socks fit properly. Avoid socks that are too big and bunch up, or socks that are too small and hit your feet in the wrong places.
  • Avoid cotton socks, and opt for sweat-wicking performance socks made of synthetics, wool, or a combination of the two.
  • Make sure shoes fit properly. Any hot spots will quickly cause blisters.
  • Consider using lubricant between toes and on other areas of friction for long runs.
  • Avoid moisture and heat, which causes friction.

To avoid moisture:

  • Don’t wear waterproof or non-breathable shoes on warm days.
  • If you run in rain or through creeks or puddles, make sure your socks fit very well and are made of wicking, quick-drying material. Also, make sure your shoes drain water (breathable mesh equals water-draining capabilities).
  • Avoid friction, which causes heat and moisture.

To avoid heat:

  • Don’t wear waterproof or non-breathable shoes on warm days.
  • Don’t wear socks that are too warm on warm days.
  • Avoid friction, which causes heat and moisture.

Another preventative measure is to not let callouses, especially under the big toe, become too large. Some callusing helps protect feet, but large calluses can cause friction, blisters, and general discomfort. To remove or minimize them, use a pumice stone or other dead skin-removing device, or get regular pedicures, especially during blocks of high-mileage. 

A person using a massage tool to massage their foot Photo: Lashkhidzetim

Treat Blisters

To pop or not to pop a blister: You can go either route, but that little sack of fluid (un-popped) actually acts as a protective layer against further friction. The downside to not popping a blister, in a controlled manner, is that it may pop on its own and leave skin flapping about and tearing off. Ouch.

No Pop

If you get a blister mid-run and have a bandage or blister-care padding on you, stop immediately and cover the blister to protect it from popping. Duct tape works, too (but can rip open blisters when removed). A bandage beneath duct tape can work to keep the bandage in place, if you can apply to tape without wrinkles.


This is best done post-run, when you have access to a sterilized needle (either burned by a flame or doused in alcohol or hydrogen peroxide). Carefully puncture the blister, gently squeeze out the fluid, clean the area with an antiseptic, and cover with a bandage.

Prevent Black or Lost Toenails

Distance runners, like marathoners and ultramarathoners, tend to get black toenails or lose a toenail now and then (the two sometimes happen together). The cause of either can be from ill-fitting shoes, or simply the repeated pounding of your toes against the end of your shoes, especially if you don’t trim your toenails.

Make sure your shoes fit properly, and keep toenails cut short. Long toenails repeatedly jamming up against the end of shoes makes for unhappy toenails that might rebel against you by turning black or separating from the skin and eventually falling off.

Treat Black Toenails

Since black toenails can be painful due to the pressure of, basically, a blood blister having formed underneath your toenail, you might experience great relief by removing that pressure. This treatment is not for the faint of heart.

  • Burn a needle in order to sterilize it and enable it to puncture your toenail.
  • If your blood blister is visible underneath the top of your toenail, access it (poke it) without puncturing the nail. If not, carefully poke the needle through your toenail and gently push against your toenail to expel the blood.
  • Clean area with an antiseptic.
  • Apply a bandage to keep the area clean.

Prevent and Treat Cracked Heels

The prevention and treatment for dry cracked heels is the same: regularly apply moisturizer or something more heavy duty, like Vaseline or a wax-based salve. To not go through your day with slimy-feeling heels, apply moisturizer/Vaseline/salve at night and wear socks over it to sleep.

Prevent and Treat Muscular Aches and Pains

Runners tend to stretch, roll, and massage leg and back muscles, but the feet need love, as well. Taking time to roll out feet, on a lacrosse ball or on a massage roller intended for feet, especially after a hard run, is good for preventing ailments like plantar fasciitis. Stretching feet can also ward off common foot issues for runners. Kneeling and simply sitting on your heels—first with your toes flexed forward, and then toes back with the tops of your feet laying flat on the ground—provides a stretch to both the bottoms and the tops of your feet.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.