I don’t think I’m over-stating it when I say, when you’ve got a blister on the back of your heel, life is no fun!
Posterior heel blisters are more common in walking and hiking compared to running and can be just plain debilitating.
This email from Marcus (several years ago now) describes it perfectly:
We completed the Overland Track around 10 days ago and I have been meaning to report back to you. In 30 years of bushwalking in Tasmania I have never completed a walk of any distance without some kind of heel blister - on this trip I survived 6 days and 70 kilometres of walking carrying a 25 kilo pack without ANY blister of ANY kind. The upshot of all of this is that I was able to enjoy the walk and that my wife and children were along for the trip with me. Under normal circumstances I would have been in quite serious discomfort after day three and basically become totally self-absorbed for the last 3 days enduring the pain.
— Marcus from Tasmania
Fun fact: Suffering recurring blisters at the back of my heels was why my blister prevention quest all started.
A Super-Quick Look At The Anatomy & Biomechanics Of Heel Blisters
The heel bone (calcaneus) is pulled upwards by tension in the Achilles tendon when we walk. This biomechanical function is normal and necessary. However, sometimes this can happen to excess and combine with other blister-causing shoe-fit factors. For example:
If the calf muscles are tight, extra tension in the tendon causes the calcaneus to lift sooner, higher and with more force!
Having your laces too loose doesn’t help because your heel bone can move up higher in relation to the back of your shoe.
Too much cushioning directly under your heel can have the opposite effect, further increasing the movement differential between your heel bone and the back of your shoe.
High Friction Levels
The internal lining material of a shoe exhibits a relatively high friction level. So do socks and insoles. This is necessary to provide traction for the foot within the shoe and it’s a good and normal thing. But for some of us, this “normal” high friction can quickly lead to blister-causing levels of skin shear.
Experimental Blister Studies: Time-To-Blister
In 2013, the team at the University of Salford produced blisters on the back of the heels of 30 people under very controlled conditions to measure temperature changes in the skin. Putting the temperature changes to the side - if you’ve ever wondered why you get heel blisters pretty easy while your friends don’t, the results give you an idea why. One participant blistered after 4 minutes while the last one to blister took 32 minutes!
Now, let’s talk about preventing blisters at the back of your heel.
5 Heel Blister Prevention Strategies
Stop the rubbing by keeping your heel secured firmly in your shoe. This one technique helped my heels a lot. It didn’t always stop blisters but you must try it! It's called the Lace-Lock technique.
2) Calf Stretch
Reduce excessive tension in the Achilles tendon by stretching the calf muscles. This is almost always overlooked! It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen, so start now and benefit in the coming weeks from this strategy. I recommend to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds and do it at least 3 times each day for 6 weeks.
A lot of people find taping to be all they need to stop heel blisters. I wished I was that lucky. Having said that, I always found that layer of tape saved me from the red raw deroofed blisters on the back of my heels, and that was a big relief! But it didn’t always stop me from getting blisters (here’s why). Here’s my taping technique. This is using Fixomull Stretch.
4) Donut Pads - Reduce Pressure
Cutting a hole in a piece of thick orthopedic felt (or thinner moleskin pictured below) creates what is affectionately known as a donut pad. Place it to the back of your heel so the blister is smack-bang in the middle of the cavity to reduce pressure and rubbing. A word of warning though: while a donut pad makes intuitive sense and can help blisters in lots of areas of your foot, I never found it gave enough relief to my poor heels, even with a small blister. But in a pinch, I would certainly try it. Here’s the self-adhesive orthopaedic felt you’ll need too.
5) ENGO Blister Prevention Patches
ENGO Blister Patches are the best form of heel protection I’ve found for even the worst heel blisters. If you just did one thing, this would be the one to do.
They will give you IMMEDIATE and SIGNIFICANT relief if you already have a blister.
And they will ENSURE complete blister prevention.
ENGO Blister Patches work by reducing friction levels at the back of the shoe. It may sound counter-intuitive, but they encourage a little rubbing at the back of your heel. But it’s a LOW FRICTION RUB instead of a HIGH FRICTION RUB and that makes all the difference to saving your skin. Like Marcus, I think they’re heel blister prevention gold! These are the ones you’ll need - you get one pair of patches in the Heel Pack. They’re shaped like a heel grip. Watch the video below to see how to apply them.
What's Next For Your Blistered Heels?
Take your pick from the 5 strategies discussed. If you want my advice, the most effective preventative strategy for even the worst heel blisters is the ENGO Blister Prevention Patches. They’re the things that’ll keep you blister-free day in day out, without having to pad or tape all the time. The other strategies will help for sure, but the ENGO patches are best.