As runners, we know our feet can get abused. Whether it’s a blister from a new pair of shoes, a black toenail or a toenail that popped off after your last long run, foot problems are frustrating. When our legs and bodies feel great, it stinks to take a day or week off from running to let an ingrown nail heal, or stumble through an interval feeling like it’s impossible to put weight on the ball of your foot because of a blister. Thankfully, podiatrist Alastair Dall, a specialist in sports and musculoskeletal podiatry and director of Footcare Scotland has some advice for dealing with various foot-related maladies.
His general rule for happy feet is to treat them well now to prevent problems later. “From a simple daily routine of washing and moisturizing to making sure you have the correct socks and footwear for you and the activity that you are doing, prevention is always better than the cure,” he explains. If you are having problems, head to a podiatrist as soon as possible rather than trying to diagnose and treat yourself. “Whether you have a blister or plantar heel pain, get it checked early by a professional,” he adds. “It will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.”
Here we tackle a few of the main skin-related foot complaints runners face and lay out the best treatment and prevention plans:
Dall stresses that if you can wait a day or two without treatment, the blister will reabsorb and give you no more trouble.
If you absolutely insist on treating a blister, take heed. “Be cautious when popping blisters due to the risk of infection,” Dall says. “If you are going to pop a blister, make sure you clean the skin with antiseptic, use a single-use sterile blade and make the incision as small as possible while letting out the fluid. After popping, you should clean it with antiseptic and apply a sterile dressing.”
Surprisingly, Dall says that calluses are actually good for runners, provided they aren’t painful. “Particularly for runners and hillwalkers, having some callus is beneficial as it acts as a protective layer,” he says. “If it’s painful, see your podiatrist, who will treat it safely.”
Beyond that, if you hate how scratchy the calluses feel, Dall says applying moisturizing cream daily is a good habit as it will “keep your skin nice and supple and will help prevent future problems.”
This is a really common problem with runners, Dall says. “If the nail is black and painful, there may be a buildup of blood under the nail, and that can be dealt with by a podiatrist. They will release the pressure behind the nail and it will give you immediate relief.” It’s tempting to DIY that process, but Dall advises strongly against that. “The risk of infection is fairly high and a podiatrist should take care of this with properly sterilized instruments and apply a sterile dressing to minimize the risk of infection.”
But Dall also says that often, a black toenail is just unsightly, not painful. In that case, he recommends letting it grow out on its own. “It may not look pretty but it is unlikely to trouble you,” he adds.
READ MORE > 6 FIXES FOR COMMON POST-RUN ACHES AND PAINS
TOENAILS THAT FALL OFF
Is it OK when a toenail just falls off? Thankfully, Dall says this is more common than you might think. Dall notes that if it is weeping (i.e leaking pus) or bleeding, seek treatment from a professional. “If the nail is loose and not bleeding or weeping, trim it neatly,” he says. “Do not attempt to yank it off. The loose nail will eventually fall off and a new nail will grow in its place.” He adds that patience is key here. (Pro tip: Don’t go in for a pedicure while a new toenail is growing in or a toenail is about to fall off.)