We’ve made it to summer - we’re ditching our pants for shorts, our boots for sandals, our hot coffee for cold brew, and our heaters for our air conditioners. As we move outside to warmer weather and more outdoor activities, one thing I’m very much not excited for is the possibility of developing painful blisters on my heels from wearing more low-cut athletic and casual shoes. When you start to feel the friction on the back of your feet, you think you can ignore it and it will go away. But the pain and the burning never goes away, and you’re left with a nasty blister that hurts every time you put on your socks and shoes. Well why does this happen?
Shoes rub heels and ankles due to the friction created between the lining of shoes and the skin on the achilles and ankle. This friction is created when walking and is exacerbated by factors including sock material and thickness, shape of a shoe’s topline, material of shoe lining, and shoe tightness.
But how can we solve this problem? This blog attempts to outline some easy solutions to prevent your shoes from rubbing your heels, so that you can enjoy a blister-free summer and let your feet fly free in the heat!
#1 - Wear Socks That Are Taller Than Your Shoes
When we get blisters on the backs of our feet and our achilles, we usually blame our shoes for not fitting properly or being too rough. However, more often than not, wearing the wrong length sock will expose more skin to the friction caused when walking, leading to pain and blisters. But how long should the socks be? Before we give our tips, let’s go over some quick shoe anatomy:
- The Quarter - the complete upper portion of the shoe covering the sides and back line of the shoe
- The Topline/Collar - the top edge of the sides and back of the quarter; in athletic shoes, the topline is usually padded and called the collar
To prevent the skin on the back of your heels from exposure to friction, you will want to wear socks that extend at least to just past the topline or collar of your shoe, if not higher.
#2 - Wear Thick Socks That Cushion Your Heels
If the height of your socks aren’t helping you reduce chafing on your heels, perhaps you need to switch your socks to a thicker, higher-quality fabric (if you’re having trouble choosing the correct fabric, refer to our previous blog on sock materials). I like to think about the times when the backs of my ankles hurt the most - wearing thin dress socks with stiff dress shoes at weddings and formal occasions. The thicker the fabric in between your shoes and skin, the less impact you’ll feel from the friction generated when you walk. You will especially want to look for socks with extra cushioning and arch support to stabilize your foot, further minimizing movement that causes friction within your shoes. Alternatively, you can double up the socks you wear at a given moment to increase the thickness of fabric, or you can wear thin foot liners to wear underneath your socks.
Ensure Your Shoes and Socks Fit Properly
Our tips above on choosing the correct sock height and thickness to prevent your shoes from rubbing your feet only hold true if the socks and shoes are properly sized. This is especially true if you have XL feet or XXL feet like me. Improperly sized socks can slide down or stretch too thin throughout the day, leading to more opportunities for friction to cause discomfort, burning, and blisters on the heel. Ensure that the socks you pick are meant to fit your specific shoe size. Don’t choose a sock that says “one size fits all”, because in most cases they don’t.
The same logic applies to your shoes - don’t wear shoes that are too tight to press the fabric of your socks and shoes right up against your skin. Likewise, don’t wear shoes that are too big, which, besides being unruly to walk in, can cause additional friction from all the movement that happens when you walk in them. If possible, try to test your shoes out (while wearing the right socks, or bring multiple pairs of socks to try on with the shoes) before you purchase them, so you can better understand how the shoes will move with or against your feet.
#3 - Use Kinesiology Tape, Heel Protecting Inserts, or Moleskin
Outside of making adjustments to your socks or shoes, a number of different products exist to help prevent your shoes from rubbing up against the back of your heel:
- Kinesiology tape - adhesive tape you apply to your muscles (in this case, the achilles and calf) that moves with the muscles so as to allow for full range of motion; while they are easy to use, the adhesive must be strong so as to stay on throughout the day, and you’re out of luck if you don’t have enough tape at the end of the roll
- Heel inserts - gel or silicone pads inserted in the back of the shoe to provide a barrier between your heel and the shoe; unless these are properly sized to your feet, they can move around and cause friction just as easily, and aren’t as secure as other options
- Moleskin - adhesive padded tape that combines features of kinesiology tape and heel inserts to prevent blisters; these still need to have strong adhesive to stay on throughout the day
These products can help prevent friction, chafing, and blisters as short-term solutions. However, if it’s a particularly hot day out, if you have excessive sweaty feet, or don’t pick the right fit for these products, they can be just as poor at preventing heel pain as bad shoes and socks.
#4 - Use Insoles for a Tighter Fit and Less Friction
Poor insoles on the insides of your shoes don’t support your feet as much as they need and leave your foot prone to excessive movement inside your shoes. While orthotic insoles are generally used to correct posture, positioning, and arch support issues within the foot, they can also provide a tighter and more secure fit for your feet inside your shoes, leading to less blister-causing friction. While decent insoles are available off the rack, you can also get a set of high-quality insoles customized to your feet. However, this can be an expensive process for molding new insoles for your feet, so you have to determine if this step is worth it if you could use the extra support insoles provide.
#5 - Try an Anti-Blister Heel Balm
Many companies in the skin care space provide some sort of anti-chafing balm, not just for the heel, but for other parts of your body as well which are prone to excessive rubbing against fabric. You apply them to your heels much like a roll-on or stick of deodorant - they provide lubrication to act as another barrier for your skin to reduce friction. These balms usually cannot be used in conjunction with other products, especially adhesive ones that will not stick to areas that have had anti-friction balm applied. Additionally, using these balms daily means you’ll have to have a large supply, as they are meant to be reapplied several times throughout the day. This can start to add up the expenses, especially if you also use non-adhesive products such as insoles.
#6 - Use the Infamous Soap Trick
There is some information online that says you can run a bar of soap over the inside of your shoes in the exact areas where they tend to pinch and cause chafing and friction. This supposedly softens the area to fix or mitigate the problem. However, this can get messy on more stylish shoes. Additionally, we here at Tall Order have not investigated these claims, so we cannot comment on how well this solution works.
#7 - Apply Deodorant or Baby Powder to Your Feet
If you have excessively sweaty feet, the moisture you produce is likely to exacerbate the symptoms of your shoes rubbing against your heels. More moisture means more friction. Thus it makes sense to try a product designed to absorb and reduce moisture to prevent potential blisters. Several companies design powders and antiperspirants specifically for use on the feet, and they are widely available at drug stores. Be careful in your application of these products, because they can get messy if overused. (If you do suffer from sweaty feet, check out our previous blog on picking the right moisture-wicking socks)
Tired of Your Shoes Rubbing Your Heels and Causing Blisters?
At Tall Order, we’ve developed socks of the highest quality, blending premium moisture-wicking fabrics and providing extra cushioning for just the right amount of thickness. Check out our Extra Cushioned Ankle Socks to sit just above the topline of your low-cut shoes and athletic sneakers, and our crew length Extra Cushioned Socks for the rest of your everyday wear. Tall Order socks come in a variety of sizes to ensure the proper fit, whether you are looking for regular socks, big and tall socks, or even socks for XL feet or socks for XXL feet.