Why Do I Wear Holes In The Back Of My Shoes?
Ever worn holes in the back of your shoes? Right where the back of your heel sits, under the nice padded heel collar. The shoe lining opens up and foam spews forth. If you look closely, you’ll see the hard plastic of the heel counter. This signals the unfortunate, and sometimes premature, death of your shoes.
Or does it?
When this happens before the rest of the shoe wears out, it’s kind of annoying. It’s kind of expensive too. I’ve seen shoes that look otherwise brand new, soles hardly worn, barely a speck of dirt on them. But there’s a big gaping hole in the back.
I have to admit, this has happened to many of my walking, running and casual shoes. Thankfully, I’ve found a way to prevent it. The thing that fixed it for me was the thing I use to prevent heel blisters - which I suffer from far too easily. So I’ve killed two birds with one stone and I could not be more happy about that!
But not everyone who gets these holes gets blisters. So, let’s take a good look at who gets troubled by this phenomenon (ooh, that makes it sound mysterious!), why it happens and how to fix it.
Who gets these holes?
All sorts of people (young/old, male/female) during all sorts of activities (walking, hiking, running, ultrarunning, sports, activities of daily living) with all sorts of feet and biomechanics. Here are a few examples:
"What causes my heel to eat the padding out of the back of my shoes? Shoes too big, or too short? Or am I buying shoes with oddly shaped heel cups? Any suggestions would be great appreciated! First pair were Inov8 Rocklite 295 size 10s. Loved the shoes but ultimately had to get something with more support. I wore them for 60 miles hiking and a few short runs. My heel wore through the fabric on the heel cup and was working on the padding when I quit using them. Second pair were La Sportiva Bushidos size 42.5s (US 9.5). After wearing these for two months, including multiple day hikes, my heel had completely worn all the fabric and padding out of the heel cup. Looking into the shoe you would see the plastic frame of the heel cup through a hole the size of a quarter. In both shoes I could usually tape my heel to prevent blisters, but the shoes and socks still wear out." Bakpacking Light
"Why do I wear out the heels on the INSIDE of my shoes? It goes all the way to the core of the shoe where my heelbone (if that exists) touches the rear of my shoe. It basically rubs enough and wears to give me a blister. I cannot find a pair of shoes that I can not wearout? Weird that the old Nike structure Triax 8 didn't wear on me, but everything else does, Asics, Saucony, etc." Let's Run
"How can I prevent my shoes from ripping in the back (in the heel linings)? So after searching this subreddit I got a fantastic pair of New Balance's, they rock. The only thing I'm worried about is what happened to my old pair of running shoes, the heel linings eventually got ruined, they kind of looked like this at one point, it's not my actual pair but the tears are somewhat similar. All I would do is run with them on the treadmill. So my question is, is there anything I can do to prevent it from reoccurring with my new pairs?" Reddit
Why does it happen?
I’m not aware of any research on this issue. However, I’ve seen enough instances to have some pretty firm thoughts on what can be responsible.
There is one bony deformity that will very likely wear a hole in your shoe’s heel counter before their time is up and that’s a Haglund’s deformity. Better known as “pump bump”. Essentially, there’s an extra lumpy bit on the back of your heel. This causes an increased focal pressure both on your shoe, and the skin overlying the bony protuberance. You can read more about Haglund’s here.
Not undoing your laces
If when you put your shoes on, you force your heel over the padded heel counter with excessive force, this can wear away at the lining of the shoe. It will happen higher up at the heel collar rather than the heel counter below. This often happens when you don’t undo your laces. Just another reason to undo your laces every time 😊
If your heel rubs up and down at the back of the shoe, the shoe lining will likely wear out sooner than it ordinarily would. That makes sense, doesn’t it? But think just a little harder about this. For this to happen, you’d have to have a friction situation where your sock remains in close contact and basically stuck to your skin via high friction levels. Then the abrasiveness of the sock would wear away at the shoe lining. As soon as the friction situation changed and your foot moved within the sock, your shoe would be saved that abrasive rubbing. It’s almost impossible to tell what’s rubbing against what in a real-life situation, but you get my drift. Heel slippage can be involved, but it’s not always involved.
It’s possible that there is more force exerted to the shoe lining at the back of the heel with a longer stride length compared to a shorter stride length. Imagine stepping forward only ever so slightly – impact will be mainly felt by the area under the heel. Now imagine taking a big long over-stride. Sure, the bottom of the heel still bears some force. But there’s a significant amount of force imparted to the heel counter area from the back of the heel.
Shoe lining materials
This one has to be relevant to some degree. But you’re not going to be able to tell at the shoe shop if your new shoes are more susceptible to getting holes in them or not. I’m not privy to the friction levels or durability of the different lining materials used in this part of the shoe and whether there are significant differences between shoes. Nor are the people in your shoe shop, I’m sure. But it makes logical sense that this could be involved. In terms of friction, the lining of shoes has to strike a balance between being high friction enough to provide traction for the foot within the shoe, and low friction enough to allow the sock-covered foot to slide in. Separately, I’m sure some materials are harder-wearing than others. I’ve also seen some shoes pill badly at the back of the heel.
I’m not buying this one. It’s mentioned a lot, so I thought I’d better include it here. But I have not seen a correlation, let alone be able to explain it mechanically.
Fixing (and preventing) holes at the back of your shoes
I’ve seen and tried several things to stop the lining wear through at the back of my shoes for both myself and my patients. Here’s what I’ve found.
Option 1: Heel-grips
These will work, they will save your shoes. Because literally, you’d have to wear all the way through the heel grip before you got to the shoe. At that point, you’d put another sacrificial heel grip on. However, heel grips won’t stop you from getting blisters. I still get blisters with heel grips, in fact, my blisters are worse. That’s because the heel grip is made from a high friction material. The clue is in the name. Grip equals high friction level. It’s similar to moleskin. Moleskin is made of cotton, which we all know attracts water and is not a good material to use in blister prevention because with a little moisture, it leads to higher friction levels.
If your only issue is with your shoes and you’re not getting blisters, use a heel grip. If you need to save your shoe AND your skin, it’s a little more complicated.
Option 2: Denim or leather patch
This one I've personally tried with leather. Denim is also discussed in a couple of blogs here and here. Whatever material is used, it is glued and/or sewn in by a bootmaker to cover the wear area. This will surely cover the hole and give you more material to wear through before you got to the shoe lining again. But let's think about the materials mentioned here.
Denim is 100% cotton (see comment about moleskin above) as are most cloth materials used for this purpose. While it will give your shoes an extended life, if you’re also trying to prevent blisters, this is unlikely to work.
It’s a similar (slightly different) story for leather. It didn't help my blisters at all, but gave my shoes an extended life.
At this point, I just want you to remember moleskin / denim (ie: cotton) and leather for when we reach option 5 and look at a couple of graphs.
Option 3: Fabric covered gel sheeting
The gel material used in gel toe sleeves and caps is great for preventing blisters. It can be purchased in adhesive sheets with a thickness of 5mm. You can trim a heel-grip shape and apply it to the back of your shoe, just like a heel counter. The material itself undergoes a lot of shear (internal stretching) via its shear low modulus. This means the skin is spared of some shear that could lead to blisters. I’ve used this myself and with a few patients and the overriding issue is that it rolls down. Due to the thickness of the material, your sock catches the top of the material too easily when you slide your heel into your shoe and the gel ends up rolling down. It can also wear out quickly in the presence of a Haglund’s deformity. It’s unfortunate because on the face of it, this material holds a lot of hope. However, fear not, because the next option is the clear winner in my humble opinion.
Option 4: Duct tape
Forget paper tape, Fixomul or Elastoplast. Duct tape is by far the best tape to use to cover any holes. It presumably has a lower COF compared to other tapes (though I can’t for the life of me find any COF stats) and is hard-wearing, no doubt. But you’ve got to avoid folds and creases like the images below. These areas of high focal pressure will irritate the skin. Easier said than done, I know.
Option 5: ENGO Patches
Engo blister patches are blue adhesive stickers purpose-made for sticking to the shoe lining to prevent blisters. They are a brilliant form of blister prevention, thanks to the very low friction material that coats them. It’s called PTFE and it’s known to have a very low friction level. Teflon is made from the same PTFE material. Engo patches have a COF under 0.2 in both dry and damp conditions. Take a look at the graphs below. Note the friction levels for moleskin and leather.
You apply Engo patches to your shoe just like a heel-grip. They are much thinner than a heel grip and so this makes it easier to avoid catching the top of the patch as your slide your heel into your shoe. However, some care is still needed. They also prevent this wearing at the back of your shoe. They are surprisingly hardy, lasting months and months at a time (or over a year in my case). If the patch loses its blue colour and turns white, or you see the fabric backing of the patch instead of the blue low-friction surface, it’s time to change the patch. You can also use them to fix existing holes, like I did here on my father-in-law’s shoes. I just pushed all the foam back into place, folded the edges of the worn lining back down as best I could, and popped an Engo patch over it to cover it all up. I used a large oval here, but you can also use the heel patches of course.
Hope this helps you decide which option to move forward with.
If you’ve got some good photos of holes in the back of your shoes, send them over to – I’d love to add some more examples to this article.
Carlson JM. 2001. The friction factor. OrthoKinetic Review. 1.7 Nov-Dec: 1-3.
Payette M. 2010. Friction management for diabetic foot problems. Presented at the 36th Annual Meeting and Scientific Symposium of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists.
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