Do I need new shoes or new feet?
July 6, 2018 1:28 PM   Subscribe

I climbed and walked a lot in a city and it made my feet hurt. How can I make walking less painful?

I recently spent a week in the area of Genoa, Italy, and the Cinque Terre area. This required a lot of climbing and walking, all of which was on asphalt or cobbled streets. I walked between three and seven miles a day, and did a serious amount of climbing -- 57 stories on one particularly strenuous day. While I am certainly no marathon runner, I can handle these distances, as long as I give my body some time to recover. I am a 6-foot tall, 200lbs male.

However, this walking took quite a toll on my feet. I had blisters on the inside of both big toes, the balls of both feet felt as if they had blisters deep under them, and it felt like my feet swelled considerably. After a few hours of walking, it was very painful to just pick my feet up off of the ground; I wanted to keep them planted in order to avoid the pain of picking them up. I guess that's related to the swelling.

I intentionally avoided cotton clothing for this trip; I was wearing Darn Tough socks which held up very well. Shoes were a well broken pair of leather Rockport walking shoes; they did not pinch or bind my feet, and I had a new set of relatively cheap insoles in them.

I like to walk, and would like to continue walking longer distances like this, without so much pain. What can I do to achieve this?
posted by the matching mole to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Having spent long periods travelling (and thus walking 10 km regularly), I found that it took time for my feet to adjust. Sounds like you’ve done the right things so far: good socks and shoes. One possibility is that your shoes may be worn out to the point of not providing enough support for your feet.
posted by Amity at 1:47 PM on July 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Swap out the insoles for superfeet, and double check that in addition to not pinching, your shoes don’t also have spots that are too wide.

Next, lots more walking.
posted by bilabial at 1:58 PM on July 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yeah you just need to talk that much (or close) on most days for another few weeks or months.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:12 PM on July 6, 2018

Just because this hasn't been stated explicitly: this happens to everyone walking longer distances than they normally do. The only real solution is to make the distance normal. Really good, supportive shoes, fit by someone at a specialist show store, can make a marginal difference and will add to your overall comfort once you can walk without blistering.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:21 PM on July 6, 2018 [6 favorites]

Walking on cobbles is much more of a foot/ankle/calf workout than walking on flat surfaces, same goes for stairs or hills in general; even when you don't feel an actual strain at the time, all those areas are working overtime to keep you balanced. You might feel better wearing compression socks or just removable separate calf compression sleeves next time.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:22 PM on July 6, 2018 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Next time you walk miles on cobbled or rocky walking trails, even easy-ish ones, wear lightweight hiking boots/shoes with lugged soles that will absorb some of the shock. Here's an additional tip to help prevent blisters: rub Vaseline on your feet; put on thin hiking liner socks, and over the liners lightweight hiking socks. The feet "slide" around a bit so that you're not hitting the same spots.
posted by Elsie at 2:55 PM on July 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'd like to recommend duct tape for blisters. By putting a big piece of duct tape over a blister or spot that's rubbing, you shield your skin from friction and displace it over a much wider surface, rather than on the small, focused blister spot. It doesn't address the larger issue (my recommendation for that is "walk long distances more"), but it'll help. When I've done long distance hiking trips, I've sometimes even put duct tape on my hipbones where my pack rubbed, and it helps there, too.
posted by tapir-whorf at 2:57 PM on July 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

it felt like my feet swelled considerably

They probably did, especially if it was humid. For hiking or long-distance walking, the recommendation is usually to buy a pair of shoes a full size larger than your regular shoes, to accommodate foot-swelling.
posted by lazuli at 3:08 PM on July 6, 2018

Best answer: Largely normal. Although I would, if I were you, consider investing in some new walking shoes. The blisters on your toes make me wonder if the toe box of the shoes is wide enough for you when your feet swell. I know from experience that I have duck feet, particularly after hours of hiking, so I need to look for brands which won't cause my toes to rub together. That always produces the worst blisters! I also find leather walking shoes/boots are less comfortable in the heat. When in doubt, find a reputable specialty store in your area, if one exists, and try shoes on in the store and use the walking ramp most of them have to check the fit.

Seconding duct tape as the best remedy for hot spots and blisters. One other small tip which I learned when I started walking a lot was to shower the night before and not in the morning so the water didn't soften my feet before I walked. (At this point, my feet are like leather, so this no longer makes a difference.)
posted by frumiousb at 4:28 PM on July 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and while Darn Tough socks are great I absolutely swear by Falke walking and running socks, particularly when it's warm, particularly their Coolmax (or whatever they're calling the equivalent now). They can be a bit difficult to find in the US, but they're my one serious gear indulgence because I never get hot and itchy in them and they seem to cushion my feet better than anything else I have found.
posted by frumiousb at 4:33 PM on July 6, 2018

Others are free to chime in and disagree, but I think that you will be better served in most situations by lighter, more cushioned and highly breathable footwear like your standard mesh running/walking shoe. Thin, wicking double-layer socks are also also helpful for comfort and blister prevention. Also, I don't know what kind of sole your Rockports have but it's possible they are too broken in and are losing their cushion.
posted by drlith at 4:36 PM on July 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

How long were you overseas before you started walking?

I used to get severely dehyrdated on overseas flights, and when combined with jet lag my feet would swell horribly. After an awful trip to the UK where I had to work a trade show 8 hours after landing, I learned my lesson.
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:37 PM on July 6, 2018

At this point, taping your toes so they don't rub together any *more* is recommended. However, before the next time, get some blister block (looks like a little deodorant stick) and lube up:
-in between your toes.
-all around the margin of your feet - where the edges of a shoe insert would be.
-the tops of your toes behind the nails.
posted by notsnot at 4:45 PM on July 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you can walk those distances on a trail without as much pain, you might be putting your feet down too hard for stone streets. (I get "museum feet", which I assume is a similar problem.) There are probably techniques with names for walking lightly, but so far just thinking about it has been enough for me. Lighter-weight, less stiff shoes help me.
posted by clew at 6:08 PM on July 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hiker here. Used to be camp medic, specializing in foot care. Lots of good advice above but the biggest thing is just the walking. If you're not used to doing the kind of walking/hiking you were doing, you're gonna get blisters. Once they go away your feet will be tougher. If you keep walking like that, you'll stop getting them.

What will really help though is if you bring extra socks. If you can pause halfway through the day to let your feet air out and the skin dry, and them change into fresh clean socks, it'll make a world of difference. Soft, moist skin blisters much more easily, so a good airing and a dry sock will help a lot.

This is also the time to give your feet a good inspection and apply moleskin or bandages (I really like Nexcare because they are super sticky and super breathable) to any hot spots that are developing. In general, it is crucial to treat hot spots before they become blisters. Your feet will actually toughen faster if you catch the hotspots before they blister.

However, the good news is that once your existing blisters heal, you will have tougher feet! I went through a couple episodes where I hiked fifteen wet,
muddy miles after a year of not hiking at all, had absolutely miserable blisters and sores for a week after, and then kept on hiking for months with zero foot complaints. Not recommended, but it goes to show how much your feet can adapt.

Also, your feet will adapt to specific shoes. If your Rockports are what you like to walk in and the model you have is basically a fine walking shoe, I'd stay stick with 'em. Different shoes will put different pressure points on your feet and may require another (more minor) period of adaptation before you can go long distances in them without pain.

So, don't give up! Your feet will be OK. Next time you take them for a walk, make sure to stop and put moleskin or a bandage on any irritated spots as soon as you notice them. Try not to push it to the point of blistering. But the more you walk, the more you'll be able to walk, and the first round is the roughest. I promise.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:05 PM on July 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's (mostly) the shoes. I'd try something that breathes a little better, has a wider toe box, and possibly a softer insole/midsole. In particular, I think having padding between your foot and the shoe and places to breathe makes big a difference in how sweaty your feet get and the number of blisters you're subject to. I wore these Rockport Rocsports Lite 5 in black/gray for a month and about 220 miles in Europe and they were great for me. I have problems with my feet such that I make my own insoles, and these shoes were soft, comfortable, breathed reasonably well for leather shoes and lasted the trip. I had no problems with my feet on the trip.
posted by cnc at 9:05 PM on July 6, 2018

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