Cutting Holes In Running Shoes To Relieve Toe Blisters

by Rebecca Rushton 2 Comments

You’ve got a toe blister that’s giving you so much grief you can’t go on. Nothing you do makes it feel any better - in fact everything you try makes it worse! There’s no room for a toe cushion or even tape at this stage, things are so tight in there. Your poor swollen little sausage is throbbing so bad with pain that if amputation was offered, you’d take it. 😆

Let’s talk about shoe modifications. I’ve seen a lot of them at ultramarathons. Blister-prone Fellrnr has a great shoe surgery how-to article you must read. This article focusses on choosing the right shoe modification for the right toe blister.

I can make almost any blister feel better even after it has formed. Heel blisters – easy. Arch blisters – no problem. Even ball of foot blisters are a cinch. But for toe blisters where there is simply no room to spare in the toebox – my hands are tied.

Feet can swell significantly when you’re on them all day, day after day, running or walking. Before you know it, you’re wearing shoes that are two sizes too small for you. If you don’t have bigger / roomier shoes to change into, rather than pull out of the race, get your scissors and box knife out and cut some of your shoe away to give your toe(s) some relief from the pressure.

The trick is to perform the right cut-away for your toe blister. Simply cutting any bit of shoe off won’t do. I’ve seen a few misplaced footwear modifications that leave the runner frustrated that they still get toe blisters or don't get any relief.

This shoe modification was performed in an attempt to prevent a toenail blister on the 2nd or 3rd toe. But toenail blisters aren’t caused by this part of the toebox upper. They’re caused by either the toe bending over and becoming weightbearing (you’ll need a toeprop) or hitting the end of the shoe (you'll need to extend the cut out right to the end of the shoe.

Cutting holes in running shoes

Here’s a complete toebox cut-away due to a lack of shoe length. Look how the toes would have been butting right up against the end of the toebox on the right foot (remember the rule-of-thumb for shoe fit). You can tell the same thing was happening on the left foot because there’s a hole in the sock at the tip of the big toe.

Running shoe modification

  • This shoe modification will relieve blisters between toes, top of toe blisters and blisters on the sides of the toes.
  • It will also help half of the toe tip and toenail blisters – the ones caused by the toes hitting the end of the shoe.
  • It won’t help toe tip and toenail blisters caused by the toes bending over and sustaining repeated weightbearing pressure.
  • It won’t help blisters under the big toe.

Here’s a similar toebox cut-away that was necessary for width. Toesocks over swollen toes that were also taped meant there was simply not enough room (width) for everything to fit. This modification gave significant relief and allowed the runner to complete the race in relative comfort. Now the toes can how hang over the edge of the shoe instead of being jammed together due to the constraints of the upper.

Performing running shoe surgery

  • This shoe modification will relieve blisters between toes, top of toe blisters and blisters on the sides of the toes.
  • It will also help half of the toe tip and toenail blisters – the ones caused by the toes hitting the end of the shoe.
  • It won’t help toe tip and toenail blisters caused by the toes bending over and sustaining repeated weightbearing pressure.
  • It won’t help blisters under the big toe.
  • It may actually cause blisters under the big toe and pinky toe as these are half hanging over the sole of the shoe and sustaining a concentration of pressure that’s not normally there.

How to cut holes in your running shoes

If you’re in a pickle and need to perform shoe surgery, be mindful of what you’re trying to achieve. How much you cut away will depend on which toe(s) are sore and why. 

Let’s say you’ve got an unbearable blister on the outside of your little toe. You’ll need a piece of tape (or a pen), a sharp pocketknife (or scissors, box-cutter or scalpel).

Performing running shoe cut-aways

Step 1: Put your sock and shoe on. Make sure your heel is right at the back of your shoe. Feel for your sore blistered toe and mark it with a piece of tape (pictured) or with a pen.

Step 2: Cut the offending piece of shoe away.

Step 3: Put your shoe back on, have a little walk or run and make sure the hole is in the right place. Make the cutaway bigger if the edges of it are impinging on your sore toe still.

 

Here's an example from John Vonhof at the "6 Days At The Dome" ultramarathon last week in Milwaukee. Just look at those little pinky toes poking out.

 

 

Wrapping up

Your shoe will never be the same, true. But a good piece of shoe surgery can save your toe from ongoing insult and keep you in the race.





Rebecca Rushton
Rebecca Rushton

Author

Podiatrist, blister prone ex-hockey player, foot blister thought-leaderauthor and educator. Can’t cook. Loves test cricket.


2 Responses

Rebecca Rushton
Rebecca Rushton

September 09, 2019

Cheers John. I love the photo you posted on Facebook – just had to include it in this post. And a note to anyone reading along here, John covers shoe modifications in his book Fixing Your Feet – grab it on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0899978304/

John Vonhof
John Vonhof

September 08, 2019

This is a good article. Cutting shoes is important in many races. When the pressure becomes unbearable in the forefoot or toe box, modifying shoes is valuable. I’ve even modified the heel counters of shoes. Just be certain not to compromise the integrity of the shoes.

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