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Blisters on the ball of my foot: caused by gait, not shoes

UPDATED: 15 JUNE 2018 – In my first year or so of running my running speed and distance gains were significantly held back by blisters on the ball of my foot, which were blisters caused by gait, not shoes.

What frustrated me the most when I told (most) people this, is that they immediately responded along the lines of “get new shoes” or “wear the right socks”. No! The answer is not always that simple, or obvious. Read on and I’ll explain.

A bit of background

It sounds so stupid and petty for blisters to have got in the way of my progression, both in terms of distance and speed, but they were the bane of my (running) life. I’m writing this mainly in case there are others out there who had a similar problem to me when they started running, as it is only since solving the problem that I know what caused it.

When I started running, I visited a specialist running shop and bought myself some running shoes after a gait analysis, plus some running socks.

All was going well and I worked up to running around 8k with no problems, however, when I started to increase the distance of my runs beyond this, I started to develop blisters on the bottom of my foot, behind and on the ball of my big toe. These seemed to be directly related to distance and the further I ran, the bigger they got. For illustrative purposes, the £1 is where they appear and is a similar size to the typical blisters I was getting (although they got bigger if I ran further – up to about a 50p size in the case of Bristol Half marathon last year)

Imagine the £1 is a huge blister (sometimes clear, sometimes red).
Imagine the £1 is a huge blister (sometimes clear, sometimes red).

This put me out of action for weeks as they needed popping and bandaging and took ages to heal. Of course, being on the bottom of my foot, they weren’t great to walk on and needed draining to relieve the pressure and stop them from spreading.

Trying numerous remedies

I tried everything to prevent them. I’ll try listing what I tried, believe me when I tell you I searched high and low in shops, magazines and online for a potential solution: different running shoes (different shop, brand, length and width, guidance/motion control and neutral), different running socks, double layer ‘blister-free guarantee’ socks, body glide, talc, tighter laces, looser laces, plasters, taping, sanding hard skin – you name it, I still got the blisters.

Needless to say, I spent a small fortune doing this, with no joy, but I was determined not to let something as stupid as getting blisters stop me progressing with my running – especially as I was not getting more serious issues, such as muscular or joint problems.


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Finally, after almost a year of blister problems and experimenting with various methods of blister prevention, I visited a specialist gait analyst for an hour-long bio-mechanical assessment and gait analysis.

What happened during the gait analysis session?

For the most part, I was filmed walking and running, barefoot and in trainers, on a treadmill. This is different to, and much more in-depth than, the sort of assessment you will get for shoes in a running shop and is specifically focussed on:

  • joint instability
  • muscular imbalance
  • poor posture
  • timing of gait
  • stride length and foot strike.

The outcome for me was that 15 years of sitting for most of the day and not exercising much at all, meant weak glutes and tight calves. These resulted in poor knee control when running. Combine this with high arches on my feet, and it turns out that these muscle imbalances have meant that instead of bending my knee forward to push off when running, I had been collapsing my knee inwards and pivoting on the ball of my foot to take-off (it was easier than using my glutes or stretching my tight calves). This is, essentially, over-pronation from the hip down, and not the sort of description you may hear in a running shop, which seems all too often to focus just on how your foot lands, and not how the rest of your leg/body moves.

Cue: nasty blister creation. because they weren’t from simple rubbing, but from shearing forces.

It was obvious from looking at the gait analysis videos (when slowed down) that this was what was happening. You could see the point at which I was pivoting my foot before take-off. The blisters started developing once I got more tired during a run, which was typically after 8-10k, but also happened earlier on during runs when I was pushing at my maximum effort.

The solution

Initially, I signed up for a course of physiotherapy with a sports physio, to strengthen muscle weaknesses and loosen my tight calves. I always find seeing a specialist sports physio helps when I have tightness or imbalances, as often I benefit from the massage to release tight muscles, and advice on what exercises are best to help solve the problem (or prevent it recurring).

I also bought some orthotics from the gait analyst, but ended up not wearing them as the physio treatment alone worked wonders and I prefer to solve problems without ‘supports’ if possible. I have since developed my views in this area and would now strongly recommend people don’t get orthotics or other supports, if their issue can be solved by physiotherapy and strengthening exercises instead, i.e. try to solve the cause of the problem rather than trying to mitigate the symptoms.

Work those glutes

I had been getting faster running relying on mainly my quads and calves, but you can benefit from so much power in the glutes if you actually use them. I had really underestimated the importance of using your glutes in running. If you read any good running book or blog, you will also see mention of this. Here are some of the glute exercises which helped me:

  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Single-leg squats
  • Bridge
  • Donkey-kicks
  • Side leg lifts
  • Stability ball dolphin
  • Hopping side to side

For building glute strength even faster, we recommend doing these exercises in combination with a balance or friction trainer.

Both of these trainers make working your glutes fun, so if you really want to improve strength then you should definitely consider looking into one of them.

RELATED POST:  The Bosu NexGen Pro Balance Trainer: Become A Stronger Runner

RELATED POST:  Flowin Pro: Friction Training for Runners

These exercises also help reduce the likelihood of suffering from other running problems which may result from having weak glutes, such as IT Band (side of knee) pain, which I have experienced when my glutes have become tired on long runs.

I have written about how it’s possible to stop IT band pain here: How to Stop IT Band Pain while Running: Exercises That Actually Work.

Results

So it was proven now that the cause was bio-mechanical, and not because of any shoes/socks/lacing/lubrication – I’ve since run marathons and ultra-marathons without a hint of a blister!

RELATED POST:  How to Stop IT Band Pain while Running: Exercises That Actually Work

Thanks for reading!

This post was originally written a few years ago and is a popular post – because so many people have this problem! I hope that, if you’re still reading now, you found this interesting/useful – and if you’ve had similar problems as I used to and are starting to doubt whether you should continue running, that this story will give you hope that there is a solution out there for you too – don’t give up!
We love to hear from you, so if you have any comments or questions (or found it helpful) then drop us a comment below…
If you like this post, why not check out some of our other posts and subscribe by going to trailandkale.com/signup to receive future post updates via email (no spam – ever).

31 COMMENTS

  1. Such a helpful article! I have this same problem with blisters in the same place so I googled it and this was one of the top articles, this makes so much sense and I’ve seen in photos/videos of my running that I do the same (overpronation from the hip joint and knee knocks inwards). I was just wondering, aside from strengthening my glutes, which I’m already working on, what sort of running shoe would you suggest purchasing that would be the most beneficial? Any advice would be much appreciated, thanks!

    • Hi Erin, so glad you found it helpful! Sorry to hear you’re having the same problem, but great to hear you have a plan and you’re working on it. Regarding shoes, my personal opinion is that neutral shoes with a bit of cushioning (assuming you’re running on hard surfaces) are the best bet, so you know the shoe is not affecting your technique or form by being too ‘supportive’ or cushioned. I just reviewed some nice Brooks Ghost 10s (so comfortable! https://www.trailandkale.com/gear/brooks-ghost-10-review/ ), or something like On Running’s Cloudsurfer (Link to On’s website/Amazon [affiliate]: https://www.trailandkale.com/go/on-cloudsurfer/), which I’ve had a few pairs of and never had a blister problem with – or your normal brand’s ‘neutral’ option.

      Good luck! 🙂 Helen

  2. This is a really helpful article, as I have just started having these problems the past few weeks. I’ve been running for 13 years and have never had this particular issue before, and I thought I was going mad! I will 100% give this a go, and concentrate on what my knees are doing next time I’m out. Thanks again!

    • Hi Tom, thanks for the feedback, sorry to hear you’re having this problem (especially after 13 years of running!), I hope the tips help you, too.

  3. Hi Helen just briefly read your article sounds like the problem I’m having at the moment was planning on going to get some new runners and running socks, but lm going to have a proper read later and get back to you later if that’s OK Martin

  4. This has been music to my ears. Suffering from blisters in the same area and with wide feet and high arches I’ve changed shoes 3 times in 6 months, tightened laces, loosened laces, compeed, plasters, new socks, 2 socks, different lacing techniques. And all I need is to sort out my glutes. I’m almost at giving up running stage so….. PLEASE LET THIS WORK !

    • Ahh Scott, I feel your pain, sounds like you have a similar story. Best of luck with the exercises, I hope the help you, don’t give up, there is hope 🙂

  5. Hi thanks great article, I have only been running for about the last 2 1/2 – 3 years, to start with to lose a bit weight and to get a bit fitter and then last year I did a charity treck up kilimanjaro so got in to the running more.
    I’m 52 and had never learned how to run as a kid, 100 yards max and I was done, so it’s been quite a learning curve. I was just trying to run way too fast for the amount of air I was talking in. So once I had worked out to run slower and breath more I was off, can’t believe it took me so long to get it. I’m really enjoying it now,
    I did my first hm in March this year and had put on some walking socks for padding and warmth as was still very cold, I had a good run for me with a time of 2:18 and felt OK had to rush out after a quick shower so didn’t notice till later I had a large blisters on my left foot at the back of the ball, though the shape and place was odd and my first blister since I started running, looking at the socks there was different stitching in the same shape and place as the blister so had put down to the sock and not used for running again. Then a few weeks ago I did another hm this time very hot with a time of 2:40 with the socks I normally run with, I started getting cramps in my right calf at around 9 miles and gradually getting worse in both and sore feet felt like blisters on both feet under the front of the foot, and both knees were getting painful inside edges, I managed to get to the finish with quite a bit of walking, on checking my feet at home I had smaller blisters on both feet just on the back of the balls again, and looking at the race photos I look like I’m running knock knee’d. I had thought it was a combination of the longer time as I normally run in training upto about 2 hours and worn trainers, but the blisters places seemed odd, that’s when I found your article.
    There is a place very near me that specialises in bio-mechanical assessments and gait analysis ect. There standard assessment is £99 which is a bit high,
    so I think I’ll try the sports shop first where I got my latest trainers from, as they video you on a running machine and check out your running style and gait for free. The trainers I have at the moment have done about 350 miles in 18 months, and are showing signs of ware especially under the ball of the foot more so on the right foot. I had my gait checked at the sports shop when I got them and was running neutral. So I’ll see if I can get them to check me running in my current trainer’s and then some new ones, obviously it’s not going to be as detailed an assessment as the other at £99 but I hope new trainers sort out my problem and going start to exercise my glutes fully as I drive for a living so that’s not helpful from what I read about glutes. I did try to message you back but couldn’t so I’ve put it on here as a fresh post any problems I can delete. thanks Martin

    Sent from my Sony Xperia™ smartphone

    • Hi Martin, sorry to hear of all the blister issues you’ve been having – good luck getting the gait assessment; let’s hope the sports shop one gives you the diagnosis you need. Keep persevering, I found I didn’t have to do the exercises for long before the issues pretty much went away, so I hope it is the same for you and you can get more joy and less pain out of your running.

  6. Wow, this story is like ive written it myself. I have spent 100s if not 1000s on different shoe sock combinations as i have the exact same issues. If i run long and slow with the 9:1 run walk my feet hold up, but the minute i put any pace into it boom, hot feet and blisters. the only thing that does relieve it for me is compeed plasters , but as a triathlete i cant stick them on to wet feet mid race, and if i put them on before they come off in the swim.
    im going to look into a bio-mechanical gait analysis , can i ask where your based? im in bournemouth and cant find one locally. id happily travel to get this sorted as its driving me nuts.

    • Hi Christopher, I hope a gait assessment helps you get it sorted once and for all! I was in Bristol and saw Martin Bell (http://www.footworksorthotics.co.uk/) for a gait assessment. I bought orthotics at the time, too, but never used them, just the advice (and knowledge shared above) plus an introduction to an excellent sports Physio was all I needed. Good luck!

      • i went for the gait analysis and he watched me run and said, hmmm your hip collapses which in turn is pivoting your feet. he asked if i got hot feet while running. he also said he expected i suffered from really tight calves ( which i did) Ive just finished my 6 week course @ the running school. wow what a difference!. no hot feet, no blisters, no tight calves. amazing!! cant thank you enough for pointing me in this direction.

        • Hi Christopher, it was great to read your update – that’s amazing! I’m so pleased for you to have got these sorted in 6 weeks!! Happy to help, here’s to a future of lots more comfortable running 🙂

  7. Hi Helen. Thanks for the great info. I really need to get my stride sorted to stop hot feet and those blisters.
    Were there any corrective drills you used to train your gait aside from the strengthening, which I’m already putting into practice?
    Thank you. ?

    • Hi Matt, I’m glad this was helpful! I have also found that reducing my stride length (especially when running downhill) and increasing my cadence to 90 (180 footsteps) per minute was helpful. It helped me stop getting shin splints from ‘over-striding’ and the higher impact and associated heel-striking that goes along with over-striding. So it’s a good way to improve running form in general, and hopefully helps with the blister issue at the same time.

  8. Helen! Thank you for writing this! I just got back from a run and once again feel big toe ball of the foot blisters coming on. As you describe your gait analysis it was like reading it about me! High arch, knees collapse in, weak glute/leg muscles! I’ll be sitting down and making a lower body strength schedule. Thanks!

    • Hi Kim, thanks for your comment – glad the description helped! I can’t believe this issue isn’t talked about more, it seems to affect so many runners. Best of luck getting sorted with the strength training, I’m sure it will help 🙂

  9. Wow Helen thanks for the article. after 10 years running I started suffering with blisters. It’s 2 years now and I just can’t solve. Stopped doing long runs, my limit is max 12k/14m. Changed running shoes, socks…tried everything. Went to 2 different doctors that just looked and said: try insoles but after 12/14km I have them again. After 2 years I managed a half marathon this weekend but protected myself with tape and noticed that it is the limit.
    Now that I read our article my path is very similar. This weekend I noticed: high arch (noticed this weekend) followed by knees collapse (felt on the 14km this weekend) in, weak glute/leg muscles (did not realize).
    For sure it’s a bio mechanical cause I will start a session of specific exercise and see how it goes. Many thanks!

  10. Hi Juliana, that’s strange that you started having the blister issue after 8 years of running, sorry to hear that. Your story does sound very similar to mine. Best of luck with the glute and leg exercises, I am sure they’ll help you, too!

  11. You deserve to go viral for this dissertation, Helen. I just started dancing for 2 hours every Sunday, after turning 50. And I am so glad I did not pass go, down a rabbit hole of excruciating advice, not contextualized in the slightest. Blisters on the balls of my feet develop the more I dance, and sure enough, I have very high arches, and known tension and tightness from too much sitting in the whole seat arena of my body. Getting to biomechanical basics is a life saver. You might want to look into Hanna Somatics, a methodology that teaches us how to operate a human body from the inside out.

    • Hi Deb, thank you so much for your kind comment. It was such an eye-opener to start to appreciate the importance of posture and bio-mechanics when it comes to exercise and injury prevention. Keep up the dancing and I hope you get to a point where blisters are rare or non-existent!

  12. I feel like you wrote this just for me! Thank you! I can picture exactly what is happening and why I only get blisters on the ball of my right foot. Thanks again!

  13. This is an amazing resource! I don’t have the same location of blister (and mine might be related to my shoes, since this is a new problem), but similar–and I’m betting my gait is contributing. Something else to investigate gives me a little hope!

    • Hi Elizabeth, I’m so glad this has helped, I think a lot of people could work on improving their gait (I could definitely improve further), hopefully you can solve the blister issue soon!

  14. Hi! I’ve just come across your article which I Imagine is incredibly helpful for runners with similar problems. But here it goes…I’m not a runner! And yet seem to have the same problem. I can sometimes have a blister after walking for less than half an hour (particularly on shoes with little support that are quit thin like all stars, they seem the worse) and blisters appear in a similar spot as you describe, just slightly more under my big toe. I know for a fact my posture is not great (shoulders etc) and I’m pretty sure I have fallen arches but was wondering if you reckon the source of the problem is actually the same as you describe? So in this case not the way I run but walk. You might be able to tell me that it is definitely a runners thing in which case I’ll continue my online search for solutions, but your article stood out as it describes a different reason for the source of the problem unlike any other article, that would always refer to some sort of rubbing and friction. Thanks so much!

  15. Hi Maartje, I never had the problem walking, only running, but it seems it could be the same issue, or at least partially. I suggest finding someone who can do a gait analysis to see if that can help work out the cause and help you stop it from happening.

  16. Hi. I am so happy to have come across this post.. Again, as above, I could have written this myself. Running since may 2018, ran up to christmas time with no problems at all. After christmas this year, my pace has picked up and so has my mileage so this is EXACTLY what happens to me. It’s my right foot, it gets hot, then it rubs, then it blisters. I have tried several things as you have all said and nothing has helped it.

    Now I have been for 3 gait analysis before, 1 was just my first one where I got my shoes, all fine. Second was to ask if I’m doing anything I shouldnt be and both said I run fine, neutral runner, and they couldn’t really advise me on what to do other than try a new pair of running trainers. I have been very tempted recently to buy new again and a different make but this makes me think twice plus they cost a lot as you all know!

    Now I have taken up strength training / yoga at the gym last month, I go twice a week and i do a lot of exercises on my glutes/hamstrings/quads etc as I have ALSO suffered with very bad calf pain after my runs too and was told it maybe glutes etc which are weak and in turn making calfs overwork.

    Bottom line is, what do I do? Any recommendations? I live in hope one day I can run without the pain again but it’s been 10 months of blister torture for me! Thank you.

    • Hi Daniel – I think you’re doing the right thing with the exercises, it seems most peoples’ problems are stemming from having weak / tight glutes, which I understand has a knock-on effect on gait and other muscles in the legs/rest of body. Maybe also try building up your running distance and speed from a slower/shorter distances, so your body has time to build strength in the weaker areas, and work on your form. Perhaps a running coach could help?

  17. Unsure how to reply to individuals on here. Doesnt seem to work… those who have suffered with blisters, have you managed to sort them? Would love to as much details as possible as I’m in desperate need of light at the end of the tunnel with this one! Thank you all.

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Helen
Helenhttps://www.trailandkale.com
Hi, I’m Helen. I write about all things trail running, outdoor adventures and mindful living. Aiming to be a positive influence and have a positive impact on the environment and those around me.

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