5 Ways To Prevent Blisters On The Ball Of Your Foot
It's difficult to walk with blisters on bottom of feet, particularly under the ball of your foot. This is a major weightbearing area of your foot. In this article you'll learn about:
- Why this area is susceptible to blisters
- The anatomy and biomechanics of the ball of your foot
- The 5 most effective preventions for a blister under foot including:
- Cushioned insoles
- ENGO blister patches
- Fixing your biomechanics
- Donut pads
Blister on ball of foot locations
Deroofed blisters on balls of feet (image credit)
You can get them:
- Under the big toe knuckle (above)
- Under the little toe knuckle
- Right in the middle of the forefoot
- Less commonly across the WHOLE ball of the foot!
Why we get blisters on bottom of feet like this
- Pressure: This is a weightbearing area of your foot, more so that most other parts of the foot.
- Moving bones: You may not be aware, but foot bones move around quite a lot under the skin, especially the bones in this part of the foot.
- Type of skin: The skin on the sole of the foot is thicker and less mobile than other parts of the foot and this is suited to blister formation. Also, there are more sweat glands on the sole of the foot compared to other areas and this contributes to high friction levels.
- High friction levels: It's warm and humid in your shoe. That means high friction levels - as in things are clammy and sticky. What's more, the fabric of your sock and shoe lining are made from relatively high friction materials. This is intentional and quite appropriate as it helps keep your foot stable in your shoe. It's only a problem if we're getting blisters. Thankfully, there is an easy way around this which I'll explain with a video shortly.
Let's talk a little more about anatomy and biomechanics
Ball of foot anatomy
Anatomically, this is where the metatarsal heads are. These are weightbearing bones so the skin is subjected to really high pressures. And as part of normal function, the metatarsal heads move back and forth under the skin.
Ball of foot biomechanics & blisters under feet
Metatarsal heads move back and forth with every step we take:
- During propulsion (push-off)
- When changing direction
- Going uphill and downhill
- Whether walking or running
Picture this. When the foot plants, the metatarsal heads skid forward over the skin, and then backwards during propulsion. Moving bones above, high friction levels below and weightbearing pressure compressing everything together, this creates a lot of skin shear (the cause of blisters). This is completely normal and usually below our blister-causing threshold - but not always. Watch this video to see how moving bones cause blisters.
Video: Moving bones, high friction levels and weightbearing pressure can cause blisters under foot
You can imagine that as your activity increases in intensity and/or duration, shear may reach a point where it becomes excessive ... more than the skin can handle. At this point, damage occurs. And it occurs under the surface of the skin, a few layers deep. Blister researcher Stanley Comaish described this damage as epidermal fatigue because the connections that bind these skin layers tear under the excessive and repetitive shear load.
The 5 best strategies for a blister on ball of foot
Preventive taping is a good place to start. It won’t always work, but it’s a good starting point if you haven't tried anything. In the following video, I'll show you how. The tape I use is Fixomull Stretch but you can use another tape if you prefer.
2. Cushioned insoles
Cushioning has a double blister prevention effect. Firstly, it reduces peak pressure a little and therefore reduces skin shear. And secondly, cushioning materials absorb shear via their shear modulus. That is, shear goes on within the material so less of it occurs within the skin. Research has shown some cushioning does this better than others, for example, Spenco works a little better than Poron. It’s important to know that blisters can still form in spite of cushioning. But if you need just a little bit of blister prevention oomph, and your current insoles are old, worn or compressed, a new pair could make all the difference. Interestingly, the top surface of cushioning materials typically exhibit a high friction level! So if you're still getting blisters in spite of cushioned insoles, add the next strategy.
3. ENGO Blister Patches
This is the best way to keep friction levels low under the ball of the foot - better and longer-lasting than lubricants and powders. These patches stick onto the insole of your shoe (or orthotic) and they just stay there until they wear through about 500kms later. They make the friction side of blister prevention easy to take care of. Pictured are the large ovals. If you need broader protection, you can use the larger rectangle patches (see below).
ENGO Blister Prevention Patches under the ball of the foot.
ENGO Blister Prevention Patches - Rectangle Pack
4. Biomechanical Improvements
Blisters under the ball of the foot are often associated with structural and biomechanical issues. There is a lot that a podiatrist or sports medicine professional can do to alter your biomechanics to reduce the incidence of blisters under the metatarsal heads. This could involve paddings, insoles, orthotics, stretches (especially calf stretches), joint mobilisations and modifications in your gait or running style. Seriously consider seeing a podiatrist if you have ongoing blister issues here in spite of using the above three strategies!
5. Donut pads
Donut pads can be a bit bulky and cumbersome when used as a prevention. They come into their own as a ball of foot treatment though. If you have a blister, you'll need to take the pressure off it. The thicker the material (I use 5mm or 7mm orthopedic felt) the better the pressure relief - but the more room they take up in your shoe. If you get prevention right, you won't need these.
Adhesive Orthopedic Felt
Take home messages
- The ball of the foot is inherently susceptible to blister development due to its skin properties, bone structure and important biomechanical functions.
- Taping, cushioned insoles and an ENGO blister patch must be tried. At a guess, this will prevent 95% of ball of foot blisters.
- Consult a podiatrist if you continue to get blisters in this area so they can assess your foot structure and function and lessen the load here.
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