Running Reader Q: Why Are My Feet On Fire?

Feet Treats: Shoes that fit, high-tech socks, and anti-friction products keep burning and blisters away.
Feet Treats: Shoes that fit, high-tech socks, and anti-friction products keep burning and blisters away.

When you’re just getting into running, there are a lot of little aches and pains—muscle soreness, side stitches, skin chafing, and the like—that might make you stop in your tracks. But when you push through, they ease up and running begins to feel better. Usually.

Tracey H. started running in the spring. “I’m new to running, so I thought I’d stick to softer surfaces,” says Tracey, who was hitting the trails three to four times a week, logging about 3 miles at a time. “My legs feel great, but somewhere around the 2-mile mark the soles of my feet start to burn. Any idea what’s going on?”

My initial thought was that Tracey’s sneakers were too tight and perhaps she should loosen up the laces—you want snug shoes when navigating roots and rocks on trails, but tying them too tightly can cause friction, making your feet feel like they’re on fire. To be sure I was giving her the best advice possible, I reached out to Brooke Jackson, M.D., marathon runner and associate professor of dermatology at the University of North Carolina, for a more official diagnosis.

Dr. Jackson, what could be causing that burning sensation? “Your assessment that her shoes are too tight is a good one, but it might be more than the laces. I would also make sure she’s wearing the right size. It’s normal to go up one half to a full size bigger in running shoes than regular shoes, so Tracey should head to a reputable running store for a proper fitting.”

Do you think she’s heading to Blister-ville if she runs longer distances? “Not at all! I’ve been running for over 10 years, and I rarely get them. Blisters are caused by friction, which can stem from too-tight shoes that rub or socks that get bunched up.  I like to coat my toes and heels with Aquaphor before heading out for long runs to reduce potential hot spots. Tracy might also benefit from rubbing some on the soles of her feet before slipping on her socks.”

Do you think her socks are part of the problem, too? “If she’s wearing cushiony cotton ones, definitely. Cotton doesn’t breathe the way technical fabrics do, which can add to friction and chafing when your feet start to sweat. If she’s serious about running, I would suggest Tracey trade in thicker socks for thinner, CoolMax or dri-fit ones—they really do make a difference.”

Thanks for the anti-friction advice, Dr. Jackson! “My pleasure!”

Tracey took all of this info to heart… and sole. She picked up a new pair of shoes, fancier socks, and a tube of skin lube. Then she hit the streets, added miles to her training routine, and recently participated in a 200-mile Ragnar Relay. That “on fire” feeling? “It’s totally gone now!” say Tracey. Hooray!

Have your feet ever been on fire, like Tracey’s? How do you prevent hot spots, blisters, and chafing?