Learn the best ways to deal with blisters, corns and calluses so you don't have to miss a day of running
Blisters, corns and calluses are some of the most common “injuries” that can affect a runner. Virtually every runner has had a blister, corn or callus at some time in their running career. Blisters, in particular, can be quite painful when they suddenly spring up in the middle of a run or race. The good news, though, is that these can all be easily treated, and easily prevented. If you are having other types of foot pain you can use these links for injuries and pain related to the top of your foot, toes and toenails, or heel and arch pain.
A person can form a blister anywhere on their body. One of the places I most frequently blister is on the roof of my mouth, just behind my two upper front teeth. Usually this happens when I bite into a hot piece of cheesy pizza. The heat, coupled with the stickiness of the cheese, is a sure-fire way to inflict bodily harm on my poor mouth! One of the worst blisters I ever had came from karate-chopping a pop-tart in half that had just come out of the toaster. The extremely hot and sticky goo of the pop-tart stuck to the edge of my hand and burned the heck out of it! Needless to say, I am very careful about my pop-tarts these days!
Although heat is one way blisters are created, another common cause is friction. A friction blister can form as a result of frictional forces between the skin and the surface with which the skin is in contact – i.e., the sock or shoe. Running in socks and shoes creates an ideal environment for blister formation. The combination of pressure, multiple surfaces of friction, elasticity and flexibility of the sock (which can bunch up), heat and moisture all work together to create a “perfect storm” of conditions, so that it is a wonder we don’t get blisters more often.
The most common causes of blisters are shoes that don’t fit properly, or shoes that are not laced properly. During my junior year of college track I was struggling with blisters for most of the season. At the conference championships that year we were running in 100+ degree heat, and after the race (it was the 10,000m), I took of my shoes and found I had two large blisters on one foot. When I mentioned to my coach early the next week that I’d been having blister problems he asked me if I was tying my shoe laces tightly enough. To this I had to reply that I hadn’t really thought about it. I immediately relaced my shoes and made sure the laces were tight and snug. Amazingly, I had no more blister problems after that. I ran at Districts the next week, again in the 25-lap race, and my feet felt better than they had in months!
If you do get blisters, the remedy is fairly simple, and common. Pop the blister with a sterile needle or razor blade. The skin over the blister is dead, so there is no feeling, as long as you don’t graze the sensitive skin underneath the blister. Just poke a hole near the edge, and drain out all the fluid by pressing from one edge to the other and out the hole. Allow it to dry out. Also, clean the area with antiseptic, both before and after you pop the blister. A small or mild blister may need no more treatment. However, with a larger or more painful one you should protect the area with gauze or moleskin.
Moleskin works wonders, in my opinion. Moleskin does not stick well to wet skin. The secret to applying it and making it stay on is to stick it on the foot in the evening and let it spend the tight adhering to the foot. My own experience indicates that by doing this the moleskin will be better stuck to my foot the next day than if I put it on right before a run. Also, for larger blisters, don’t stick the moleskin right over the blister. Instead create a doughnut shape, or place strips on the outer edges of the blister, and then put another piece over the top of the other pieces. You can pick up moleskin at most drug stores, or if you prefer, you can get it online and websites like Amazon.com.
Additional treatment and prevention methods include making sure your shoes fit properly (they should be snug but not too tight), get new socks, and apply Vaseline to your feet before runs.
Corns and calluses
Corns and calluses are similar. They are hard, sometimes painful lumps on the skin. Corns are on the top or side of a toe. Calluses are on the soles of the feet. The thickened skin is a protective reaction to frequent friction. A callus or corn will prevent blisters from forming in the affected area. Calluses tend not to bother people. However, corns can be more troublesome, due to their location on the toes. It is easy for a large corn to become awkward for a small toe. As with blisters, corns and calluses are caused by constant rubbing and pressure from shoes that are too tight.
It is not necessary to treat, and may not be desirable if the callus is formed in an area where you have frequently had blisters in the past. However, sometimes a corn, or even a callus, can become uncomfortable or painful. Besides, the formation of such “injuries” is an indicator that you need better fitting shoes. Since wearing the wrong shoes can cause other more serious problems, this is a good first step to take. Once you fix the shoe problem you should find that the corn or callus disappears in about two weeks.
If you want to speed the healing along, you can also purchase a doughnut pad from a drug store, or even online at Amazon.com. This is a particularly good idea if you are experiencing pain associated with the troubled area. Pumice or an emery board can be rubbed over the surface of the area a couple times a week to shrink it down more quickly.
To summarize, blisters, corns and calluses are common running-related “injuries” that affect virtually every runner. Thankfully, they are easy to prevent and to treat. The most important line of defense is to make sure you have properly fitting running shoes designed to handle your running type and mileage. Our feet do a lot for us when we are running. We owe it to them to give them the best shoes we can. If you are having other types of foot pain you can use these links for injuries and pain related to the top of your foot, toes and toenails, or heel and arch pain.