Fungus to Blisters: How To Take Care Of Your Feet

Six runner-specific tips to protect your feet from the hazards of the road or trail.


Many runners probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their feet. After all, it’s easy to slip on a pair of socks, lace up your shoes, and forget about your tootsies as your mind wanders to other topics like pacing and form.

But if you suddenly feel arch pain or take off your socks and find a black toenail, well, then your feet will remind you just how much you ask of them. That’s why knowing how to take care of your feet is key to going the distance as a runner.

“It’s very important for runners to take care of their feet, largely because small problems become magnified when you start to increase your distance,” Bill McCann, a podiatrist, tells Runner’s World.

In fact, nearly three-quarters of people will have some sort of foot problem at least once in their life, Quinton Yeldell, a podiatrist and founder of Southern Hospitality, a foot care line, tells Runner’s World, but the risk is greater for people (ahem, runners) who spend a lot of time using their trotters.

6 Strategies for Taking Care of Your Feet

Let’s start with the good news: The vast majority of foot troubles can be avoided by being proactive with foot care, Yeldell says. With that in mind, we tapped three podiatrists for a roundup of simple, effective things athletes can do to prioritise foot care, plus the signs you should get your dogs inspected by a healthcare professional.

1. Regularly Trim Your Nails
Toenails grow slowly — less than half the speed of fingernails, according to research, but it’s still important to make sure you properly trim them on the regular to avoid issues like fungus, ingrown nails, and bruised nails.

When toenails get too long, they can become painful, catch on the front of your shoe, or cause blood to pool underneath the toenail. This is especially likely to happen when runners put in a lot of kilometres. It may ultimately cause the nail to fall off, McCann explains.

Runners may be more prone to toenail issues because the combination of their repetitive foot strikes and the increased temperature inside of their shoes from all that movement, suggests a small 2024 study published in Nature.

To avoid these issues, McCann recommends runners clip their toenails every one to two months. Make sure the length of the nails doesn’t extend beyond the edges of the toes, Yeldell says. Also, cut straight across — don’t dig into the corners, as this can cause ingrown nails, McCann advises.

Speaking of, if you notice an ingrown nail cropping up (typically this happens on the big toe), resist the urge to dig at it. If it becomes painful when you press on it and while running, visit a podiatrist. If necessary, they may do a small procedure to remove the border of the toenail so it won’t grow back again, ultimately providing permanent relief, McCann explains.

2. Address Painful Calluses
Calluses and corns are very common on feet, McCann says. Calluses are thickened skin that form with friction, and corns are the same thing, but with a hardened centre. Unfortunately, both can become painful, and running can exacerbate this discomfort.

Also concerning: In many cases, a blister can develop underneath the callus, and that can lead to a small opening in the skin or ulceration, which “can be very painful as well,” and possibly lead to infection, McCann says.

The solution: If you notice a callus, gently file it with an emery board after a bath or shower. Then slather it with a moisturising cream or, even better, a cream containing 20 percent urea, an ingredient that will help soften the callus, suggests McCann. If, despite your best efforts, the callus remains or you get recurrent, painful calluses, see a podiatrist for treatment.

Also important: If you have calluses plus a condition that causes numbness in your feet, such as diabetes or poor circulation, ask your doctor or a podiatrist before trying this at-home treatment approach so you don’t inadvertently injure yourself, McCann says.

3. Ward Off Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot is incredibly common — as many as one in four people have the fungal infection at any given time, according to research. The condition can lead to itching, irritation, and even bacterial infections if it occurs between the toes. Extreme cases can cause cracking and bleeding, McCann says.

Moreover, runners who have had multiple athlete’s foot infections are at risk of the fungus spreading onto their toenails, which creates a “thick and sometimes very painful and certainly unsightly toenail,” he adds.

Athlete’s foot is really tough to eradicate in the toenails (if you notice it, you’ll want to visit a podiatrist for treatment) and it’s much easier to treat when it’s contained on the skin, McCann explains, which is why prevention and early detection is key.

On that front, McCann recommends thoroughly drying the skin in between your toes after a bath or shower, and wearing polypropylene or acrylic blend socks (versus those that are 100 percent cotton) both when you run and in daily life to reduce moisture build-up. The fungus that causes athlete’s foot breeds in dark, wet places, so eliminating moisture on your feet is key.

If you’re prone to athlete’s foot, spritz your shoes with a disinfectant, at least once a week to help eliminate any fungus that’s lurking inside. If you have an active athlete’s foot infection, spray your shoes daily, he suggests.

Lastly, if you notice the signs of athlete’s foot cropping up (think: peeling or itching skin) and you’ve had the infection before, feel free to use an over-the-counter antifungal cream and start applying it as directed, McCann adds. You can also see a doctor for a prescription cream.

4. Invest in Good Shoes
Poorly fitted footwear “is the biggest culprit for foot problems,” says Yeldell. Subpar kicks can lead to issues like pain, blisters, nerve irritations, and bruised toenails in runners, James Yakel, owner of Colorado Center for Podiatric Sports Medicine, tells Runner’s World.

When shopping for shoes, go to a reputable running store to get your feet measured. Instead of picking a shoe based on brand, try on different styles, and pay attention to what feels comfortable and is supportive of your specific foot type. For example, people with high arches would likely want a cushioned shoe, while those with flat feet would probably be best served with a motion control option, Yakel says.

While you’re at the store, make sure you get fit to your longest toe and not necessarily your big toe — for many people these are not one in the same, Yakel explains.

Also key: Make sure the footwear is long enough and wide enough for your feet, Yeldell says. Feet “splay,” or widen, as you step and shoes that are too narrow can result in problems like ingrown toenails, calluses, blisters, subungual (under the nail) bleeding, or just general discomfort. “Remember, the front and sides of the feet should not make contact with edges of shoes,” Yeldell adds

Once you have a solid pair of kicks, keep track of how much you run in them and replace them after about 300 to 500 miles, McCann says. This is important, because running in worn-down shoes compromises the support your feet get, which can up your chances of injuries like Achilles tendonitis, posterior tibial tendonitis, and stress fractures. “You want to try to avoid things like that and it starts with a good supportive shoe,” McCann says.

5. Address Blisters Early
Not only are blisters painful, they can lead to nasty foot infections that sideline your training. Prevent them in the first place by wearing moisture-wicking socks — those made with polypropylene-blend fabrics are a good bet, says Yakel.

Also, avoid running in wet shoes, as this can also up your risk of developing blisters, McCann says. To that end, consider having a couple pairs of running shoes on hand. That way, if one gets soaked for any reason (like getting caught in a rainstorm), you’ll have a backup option to use while the wet pair dries.

If you’re prone to blisters, consider putting a light layer of petroleum jelly between your toes to reduce potential friction, and then clean the goop out after your run.

Already feel a blister cropping up? “It’s good to address it right away,” McCann says. He suggests coating it with a triple antibiotic ointment to help fight off bacteria, and reduce friction and irritation. Then, cover it with a bandage. If the blister fills with fluid, sterilise a small nail clipper with alcohol and then use it to cut a little hole in the side of the blister so that it can drain. Afterwards, dress it with triple antibiotic ointment and a bandage to prevent infection and irritation.

If the blister isn’t significantly uncomfortable, and isn’t red, inflamed, or looks or feels infected, and as long as you don’t have diabetes or any other conditions that cause numbness or poor circulation in your feet, then it’s “probably okay” to continue running, McCann says. Just make sure to regularly treat the blister with triple antibiotic ointment and cover it.

That said, if you have one of the health conditions mentioned above, it’s wise to check in with your doctor first before lacing up to make sure you don’t inadvertently cause a bigger issue, McCann says.

6. Soften Dragon Skin
When your feet get really dry, the skin can crack and become painful, McCann says. Sometimes, this can even lead to infections. That’s why it’s “always a good idea to keep feet moisturised, especially in the winter months when the air is dry,” he says.

McCann recommends applying a moisturising cream to your feet daily after you shower or take a bath. No need to get any fancy products — “just use what you’ve got,” he says.

When You Should See a Podiatrist
Sometimes, foot issues that can’t be solved with at-home care crop up. In addition to the instances mentioned above that warrant a visit to the doctor, “pay attention to pain,” Yakel says. “If you’re having pain, there’s usually something wrong, ”

If you want to keep running, visit a podiatrist to make sure a small foot issue doesn’t escalate into anything serious or long-term, Yakel explains. This is especially important if your foot pain affects your running gait. Discomfort at the bottom level can lead to compensations and issues further up the chain, like in your hips and knees, he says.

Yeldell, for his part, recommends doing a quick daily check of all surfaces of your feet, including between the toes, to note any skin, nail, or structural changes. Consult a podiatrist if you suspect any worrisome changes. “Early detection,” he says, “is key.”

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