Prevent & Treat Your War Wounds!

How to prevent blisters, chafing, black toenails, and other war wounds of running.

Photograph by Matt Rainey

Photograph by Matt Rainey

How To Prevent Athlete’s Foot

This fungal infection results in dry, scaly, red skin between the toes that can itch or burn. Because fungus thrives in warm, moist environments, summertime is a ripe time for athlete’s foot. “Running in the heat magnifies the sweat production on the soles,” Dr. Adams says.

Prevent it: Wear light, moisture-wicking, synthetic (not cotton) socks, says Stephen Pribut,a sports podiatrist. After you run, change out of your soggy socks and shoes and slip into dry after-sport shoes before you go for coffee or run errands.

Don’t stash your sweaty pair inside a dark gym bag or your trunk where they can’t air out. You can also sprinkle anti-fungal powder on your feet before running.

Treat it: Apply an anti-fungal cream for at least four weeks, even if symptoms appear to be gone in half that time, to make sure the infection is gone, says Dr. Adams. Soothe the itch by soaking your feet for 10 minutes in equal portions lukewarm water and apple-cider vinegar (which has anti-fungal properties). If the condition persists, see a dermatologist, who may prescribe an oral anti-fungal.

How To Prevent Blisters

This is probably the number-one race day injury. These fluid-filled bubbles are caused by friction, excessive moisture (sweaty feet, wet weather), or shoes that are too small, too big, or tied too tight.

Prevent it: Buying properly fitted running shoes may sound like a no brainer, but consider this: Studies show that fewer than half of people’s running shoes were fit correctly.

RELATED: Blister Busters

Because your feet can expand a half size over a day, shop in the late afternoon or evening. If you’ve been on a running hiatus, don’t assume you can jump into your old pair. As you age, your feet flatten and lengthen, so you may need to go up a size. If you get toe blisters, Bruce Williams, a sports podiatrist, suggests “toe socks,” which fit like a glove (rather than like a mitten).

Putting Vaseline, sports lube, and bandages over blister-prone spots may also help.

Treat it: Ignore blisters smaller than five millimetres (the size of a pencil eraser) since they’re usually not painful. But go ahead and pop doozies, especially if they hurt. With a sterile needle, prick the side of the blister and drain it. Don’t remove the blister roof – cover it with an antibiotic ointment and a bandage.

RELATED: How To Tie Your Laces For Running

If you feel a hot spot mid-run, address possible causes: Are your socks bunching up? Is your heel slipping? Are your laces too tight?  If the blister hurts so badly that you’re forced to change your gait, you’re better off walking versus risking injury.

How To Prevent Chafing

Skin-to-skin and skin-to-clothing rubbing can cause a red, raw rash that can bleed, sting, and make you yelp during your post-run shower. Moisture and salt on the body make it worse. Underarms, inner thighs, along the bra line (women), and nipples (men) are vulnerable spots.

Prevent it: Wear moisture-wicking, seamless, tagless gear. Fit is important – a baggy shirt has excess material that can cause irritation; a too-snug sports bra can dig into skin. Apply Vaseline, sports lube, or Band-Aids before you run. And moisturise after you shower. Drier skin tends to chafe more.

Treat it: Wash the area with soap and water, apply an antibacterial ointment, and cover with a bandage. If you’re wearing sports lube and quality clothing and are still experiencing redness, visit a dermatologist. It’s very common to mistake a fungal infection for chafing.

How To Prevent Runner’s Toes

During flip-flop season, it’s easy to pick out distance runners. Many marathoners and ultra-runners have discolored toenails, since the more miles you log, the more likely you are to bruise your nails.

Lots of downhill running and too-small shoes can exacerbate the issue – both cause your toes to slam into the front of your shoe. Biomechanics are a factor, too. Some runners pull their toes up while running: if the toes are chronically lifted against the upper toebox of the shoe, it can cause toenail irritation.

Also, an unstable big-toe joint can make the other four toes grip too hard (and bruise) upon landing.

Prevent it: Wear properly fitted shoes and trim nails regularly. Long nails get injured more easily.

Treat it: A bruised nail usually heals on its own within six months. If it’s really painful, see a podiatrist who can drain fluid from under the nail.

Also, if it’s a chronic problem, a sports podiatrist could help you determine if toe-lifting and toe-gripping are to blame, in which case an orthotic may be a fix.

RELATED: 5 Causes of Black Toenails – Identify The Harmless From The Harmful

Sun Burn

Not only can the sun’s rays cause redness, pain, swelling, and lasting damage, studies show that athletes who train outdoors (unsurprisingly) may have a higher risk of developing skin cancer.

Prevent It: Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., wear a hat, run in the shade, and wear sunscreen. Because sunscreen can’t withstand prolonged exercise, stash some in your pocket or circle back to your car so you can reapply every hour.

You can also wear technical apparel that blocks UV rays. If not, wear darker colours, which block more UV rays than light colours, and wash clothing with detergent that protects against damaging rays for up to 20 washings.

Treat it: Taking an anti-inflammatory and applying aloe vera a few times a day will take the edge off the pain.

Got something to say?

5 Responses to “Prevent & Treat Your War Wounds!”

  1. Ryan says:

    Wow! i really had no idea that running has injured my toenails, i have just started doing longer distance and noticed my toenail is bruised and the one is falling off! thought it was from being stood on at soccer!
    Good to know! thanks!

    • Nomonde says:

      Last year I bought new running shoes from a very well informed consultant at Gateway. I only had a blister on my right foot, secon toe after the 21 km race. This year I am training with the same shoe and have blisters on all my toes including the big toe which has a big one. Do I have to buy new shoes yearly?

    • Elisa Molaba says:

      Nomonde buy 2sizes bigger than ur normal shoe size n but neutral shoes

  2. Coral says:

    I have what I thought was a blister on the side/ball of my foot. It only starts to hurt after about 7-8kms and then it’s killer! Turns out to be calloused or something? I was told to use vaseline. But on a long run this will eventually wear off. What can I use that will last a long run? Plasters don’t work either. Would it help if I filed away the hard skin or would that make it worse?
    Please help!

    • Nic Brummer says:

      You probably have a high arch, making you foot unstable. A podiatrist can confirm and make prostheses to stabilise your foot. Alternatively, it could be Morton’s neuroma, which will either go away if you use a wider shoe and do less toe running or will require surgery. Try to circumnavigate the latter.

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