If your feet are prone to blistering, taping may be a lifesaver.
While you may consider duct taping an extreme, consider the benefits of taping if you are highly susceptible to blisters. You can tape before your event as a proactive preventive measure or in a reactive mode after hot spots or blisters develop. Keep in mind that the overall goal of taping is prevention. While taping is a great skill to learn, you need to be sure the shoes you wear are the best fit possible for your feet. With shoes that fit well, your taping needs will hopefully be minimal.
Below are several methods of taping the feet using duct tape or Kinesio-Tex tape. Each method can be used with the other types of tape mentioned earlier. Following a description of each of these methods are descriptions of how to tape different parts of the feet. Remember, any tape that moves or shifts is worse than no tape at all. For more information on taping, read the article: The Two Tape Test.
There are many types of tape available to try. Duct tape, Kinesio Tex Tape, Leukotape and Micropore have become popular with ultrarunners and adventure racers. Elastikon, HypaFix, EnduraSports and EnduraFix tapes can be used as well. Athletic white tape is not well suited for taping feet. The medical tapes can be found at or ordered through most medical supply stores or through Internet searches. The most commonly used tapes can be found at ZombieRunner.com.
Types of Tape
The following tapes are available through drug stores unless otherwise noted.
KINESIO-TEX tape is made with an elastic polymer and cotton fabric, is very thin and very porous, and has a heat activated medical grade acrylic adhesive. It is commonly used in physical therapy. It is a ribbed tape that stretches longitudinally. Designed for muscle taping, it comes in 2-, 3-, and 4-inch widths. This tape is very smooth and breathable, Be sure to use the water-resistant type. I like this tape for most taping techniques. Here’s why:
- It has a much smoother texture and is far easier to apply.
- It’s very sticky and has a nice longitudinal stretch and is resilient.
- It can be used on the toes, unlike Elastikon, which is too abrasive for toes and may blister the toe next to it.
- It’s much easier to work with.
After applying, rubbing the tape briskly generates heat, which bonds it to the skin. I prefer it on the toes now, compared to Micropore, which was difficult to keep on. Kinesio-Tex can be ordered through KMS, a U.S. distributor, and ZombieRunner.
DUCT TAPE is a 2-inch-wide, very sticky silver tape with a fabric core that has excellent adhesive qualities. It does not breathe but is very strong and tough. Buy high-quality duct tape, which is available at any hardware store.
ELASTIKON, from Johnson & Johnson Medical Inc., is a medium-thickness, stretchy, breathable tape that comes in 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-inch widths. It is thicker than most tapes and requires an edging tape like Micropore. It has a rough surface and does not hold up well in extreme heat. Available through ZombieRunner.
ENDURAFIX is a 2-inch breathable tape, with a removable backing, that provides extra comfort and protection especially to sensitive skin. It works well on toes, over hot spots, on heels, and for anchoring tape between the toes. It is similar to HypaFix.
ENDURASPORTS tape is breathable, and has a specially formulated zinc-oxide heat-sensitive adhesive is triggered to ensure secure adhesion-even with perspiration, water or cold weather. This 1-inch tape is strong and similar to Leukotape, working well on the balls of the feet and heels.
HYPAFIX is a 2-inch woven, breathable tape with a removable backing. Works well on toes and between toes and around the heels.
LEUKOTAPE P is a nonbreathable tape made by BSM Medical. It comes in one width, 11⁄2 inch. It is strong and very sticky-a good choice as an alternative to duct tape. It works well on the bottom of the feet and heels. Available through ZombieRunner.
MICROPORE is a paper tape made by 3M that comes in 1⁄2-inch and 1-inch widths. It’s an excellent tape for toes. For areas other than toes, it needs to be applied over a tape adherent base in order to stick well.
Athletes who decide to try taping should purchase a tape adherent that provides a taping base to hold the tape to the skin. The best adherent is tincture of benzoin in a liquid or swabs (a woman’s blush makeup brush is a good size for applying the benzoin).
Preparation includes several steps. Before taping, clean the feet of their natural oils, dust, and dirt. This is vital to getting a good stick with the tape. If you have used any lubricant on your feet, wipe it off with a towel first. Rubbing alcohol works well to clean the feet and dries quickly. For fanny-pack use, buy alcohol wipes in small disposable packets. Next, apply the tape adherent to the areas needing taping and let it dry. Then apply the tape based on your specific needs or problems.
When applying the tape, keep it as smooth as possible. Ridges in the tape may cut into the skin and lead to irritation that may cause blisters. If the tape must be overlapped, be sure the overlapping edge of the tape is in the same direction as the force of motion. For example, if taping the ball of the foot, the force is towards the rear of the foot, so the most forward piece of tape should overlap over the piece towards the back. If taping the heel, the force is towards the rear and up the back of the heel, so the tape on the bottom of the heel should overlap the piece higher up on the back of the heel. This will keep the tape from catching on the sock and peeling up. The less overlap the better. Applying the tape too tightly may cause circulation problems. If, after application, the skin becomes discolored, cool, or numb, loosen the tape.
Place a single layer of toilet paper or tissue over any existing blisters where the outer skin has pulled loose from the inner skin. This keeps the adhesive from attacking the sensitive area and protects the blistered skin when the tape is removed. You can also substitute a piece of duct tape against the tissue, sticky side to sticky side, allowing the slick side of the duct tape to face the hot spot or blister. Try not to use gauze since it is too abrasive.
After the foot is taped, several finishing touches should be made. Run a thin layer of Bag Balm or similar lubricant over the tape and around the edges. This reinforces the tape’s status as part of your foot by providing a barrier that neutralizes any adhesive leaks and allows the taped surface to slip easily across friction points without snagging. Finally, after spraying and taping your feet, be sure to apply a lubricant or powder to the sprayed areas that are not taped to counteract any adhesive left uncovered.
You may be able to tape all areas of your feet yourself. If you have problems reaching the outer edges of your feet, your heels, or any other awkward area, find someone to help with the taping.
As important as taping the feet is, all those benefits can be lost if the athlete is not careful in putting on or taking off his or her socks. The socks should be rolled on and off. All the time and value of a good tape job can be ruined when changing socks too fast. The use of a shoehorn is recommended to keep addition fiction off the heel as it is lowered into the shoe.
Taping is useful for prerun preparation as well as for fixing newly developed problem spots. If you typically blister on the balls of your feet, consider taping before the run when you have the time to do it right rather then at an aid station when you need every minute of time. Practice taping to learn how best to apply the tape to meet your particular needs. Determine how much time is needed to do a complete application. If you are going to have crew support for an event, teach them how to do the taping. It is usually easier to tape the night before an event than wait until the morning when time is rushed and you may do a hurried job.
If you are bothered by blisters and have found that powders and/or lubricants do not work, try the different tapes to find a tape and taping method that works for you. In the chapter on foot-care kits, you will find a list of taping materials to carry during your runs and hikes.
Duct Tape Techniques
Many runners have successfully used Duct Tape to prevent and also to treat blisters. The basic principle is to cover the spot that’s injured with a patch, and in some cases, then anchor the edges and corners of that patch. The powerful adhesive of duct tape holds it close and true to the outline of your skin and the tough plastic outer tape reinforced with fabric can withstand almost unlimited friction. The friction points on your skin will then have what amounts to an additional layer of skin-the duct tape.
Remember a few general duct tape rules. Choose a good quality duct tape with a visible fabric core, not a cheap plastic imitation. Many hardware stores carry several different types of duct tape. The standard grade is typically 9-mil thick, while the contractor and professional grades are generally 10-mil. Duct tape is only available in a 2-inch width. Although the tape is sometimes available in a variety of colors, the common silver tape works the best.
Apply the tape over the danger spots where blisters frequently occur. Don’t apply tape where it is not needed. Use only a single thickness since additional layers become too hard and unyielding. When the tape is applied, that part of the foot should be flexed to its maximum extension. Cut the ends of the tape so they are rounded. If your feet are hairy, shave the parts where the tape will be applied.
Generally speaking, with duct tape do not tape all the way around toes or the foot because of possible circulation problems. If after applying tape, the skin or portion of the foot farthest from the body becomes discolored, cool, or numb, loosen the tape.
Denise Jones’s Taping Techniques
Denise Jones’s method uses Kinesio Tex and Micropore tapes, with tincture of benzoin as an adherent. She also uses plenty of foot lubricant, usually Bag Balm and/or Hydropel.
To prepare feet for taping, Denise insists you have to file down any calluses with a pedicure file so that if a blister develops it can be treated. If thick calluses are allowed to remain, they can prove next to impossible to get underneath to drain blisters, and those blisters become larger and more painful. Before taping, also make sure toenails are trimmed square and filed so no rough edges remain.
Kinesio Tex can be easily applied, is very sticky, smooth, and stretchy, and it breathes. Applied well, it forms a bond with the skin. The only downside is that it’s fairly expensive. Micropore comes in a 1-inch width that is occasionally used on the big toes. Otherwise, use the 1⁄2-inch width for the toes and also to seal the edges of Kinesio Tex tape on large surfaces of skin. Denise has found that in extreme heat conditions, Elastikon and duct tape will not work and any tapes used need to be porous.
Denise uses the following taping method: Most importantly, when I use Kinesio Tex tape on the larger areas of the foot, it’s imperative that tincture of benzoin is first swabbed onto the area where the edges will be. This sticks the edges of the tape to the foot. Allow the tincture to become tacky, and then tape as flatly and neatly as possible. Then, around the perimeter of the edges I use the 1⁄2-inch Micropore to seal the edges. Otherwise, I have found that any tape rolls and creates a ridge that will blister. So, I stress that all tapes on the large areas of the foot are taped on the edges with Micropore tape. That means more tincture before placing the sealing of the edges. Micropore will not stick without tincture. Micropore tape is used on the toes, again preparing the toe with tincture first.
If the ends of the toes blister, then I tape over the top of the toe first, then around the toe to encase it like a glove. I make sure that all areas of the toe are secure with no gaps and no ridges. If a corner is bulky, I cut it off and secure it with more tincture. If one toe is taped and the toe next to it is not, make sure the tape is absolutely smooth so that the rubbing that occurs in running will not blister the untaped toe. After taping, use foot powder to keep feet dry within the socks.
If taping over a blister, Denise first uses Zeasorb foot powder to dry the feet before taping, and then she cleans the feet with an alcohol wipe. After taping, she puts more powder over any exposed benzoin. You should use 2nd Skin over blisters, but cut a hole in each blister for draining. This allows the runner to continue with little pain. It’s the fluid in the blister that causes the pain.
Finally, pretape the night before a race and wear socks to bed to help the tape conform to the foot. If anything comes unstuck during the night, it can then be restuck.
Taping the Feet
Develop taping skills with each part of your foot. And then practice on your friends and with your teammates.
Ball of the Foot
The easiest method of taping the ball of the foot is to take a long strip of full-width tape and place it, adhesive side up, on the floor. Place your foot on it at a right angle, with the trouble spot dead center on the tape. Then flatten your foot to make it as wide as possible and pull the ends of the tape up, either overlapping them on the top of your foot or cutting them an inch up on either side of the foot. Cut the tape at the forward edge of the ball of the foot so it does not contact or cut into the crease at the base of the toes or the toes themselves.
Bottom of the Foot
You can tape the bottom of the foot from the ball of the foot to the heel or any section. Apply your choice of tape from just behind the bend of the toe base, centering the tape on the bottom of the foot from front to back. Have equal edges on the inside and outside of the foot. Trim the front edge to follow the contour of the toe base, avoiding the crease. Bring the back edge up the heel and fold over on each side, like a gift wrap, making a dart. Cut the fold flush with the foot, leaving two edges just meeting in a V pattern. Next, tape the side of the feet.
Sides of the Foot
Once the tape is affixed to the bottom of the foot, then add tape to the sides of the foot. Apply a 2-inch piece around the foot from one side to the other. Slightly overlap the edge of the bottom of the foot tape. Trim the edges to avoid rubbing at the toe crease and anklebone.
If you find the bottom edge of the tape catching on your socks, put this layer on before taping the bottom of the foot. Then tape the bottom of the foot so that tape overlaps the side of the foot tape. This method keeps the overlapping tape in the direction of the force of motion as described earlier.
Bottom of the Heel
Remember when applying tape to the bottoms of your feet or heels to grasp the toes of the foot and pull back to stretch the skin to its fullest. Otherwise as you run or walk, the shear forces will loosen the tape and may cause additional blisters.
Start with a large patch of tape covering the entire heel; attach it with both the foot and ankle flexed forward and up (pull your toes toward your shin). Take a long strip of 1-inch width tape (or cut to a 1-inch width), cover the forward edge of the patch under your foot, and bring the ends up to overlap on top of the foot. Take another medium strip, cover the edge on the back of your heel, and bring the ends around the ankle to overlap on top of the first strip. When applying the tape, lay the strips on the skin. Applying them too tightly can impair circulation.
Sides of the Heel
Many times, feet blister at the area where the insole meets the inside of the shoe. The side of the heel can be taped by either running a piece of tape around the back of the heel or under the heel from side to side. With either method, cut the tape into a V as necessary to avoid folds in the tape. Try to avoid taping over the two anklebones.
The 1-inch Kinesio Tex tape is great for toes because it molds well and is stretchy. Micropore is also good for toes. Tape only the last two joints, avoiding the crease at the base of the toes. Roll the tape around the toe, overlapping over the toenails for a double-layer but keeping a single-layer on the sides of the toes. Fold the excess over at the tips of the toes, pinching the top and bottom together. Since both tapes are stretchy, the overlapping of the tape is not an issue here as it is with duct tape. Cut off any wrinkles or corners of the tape with sharp scissors, so it conforms to your toe perfectly. After the entire toe is covered like a glove, apply with the swab another layer of the tincture to seal the tape ends. When the toes are finished, bend them back and forth to make sure they feel good and not restricted.
A proper taping on toes or larger areas should appear like an extra layer of skin on the foot-no lumps or bumps. If any corners bunch anywhere, pinch them together and cut excess flush with small scissors. Sometimes tincture needs to be applied again to keep corners and edges down.
The alternative method of taping toes is a two-piece tape job. First, tear off a small strip and use it to wrap from the base of the toenail around the tip of the toe and to the bottom of the toe even with the end on top, leaving two free ends. (Omit this step for toes that don’t blister at the tip.) Wrap another strip around the circumference of the toe, covering the free ends of the first strip, if it was used. Have the two ends meet but be sure to try to avoid overlapping them on top of the toe. Always use a large enough strip to cover the toe’s “knuckle joint” so that both outside edges are too small to slide over the joint and cause the tape to bunch off or slip off the end of the toe. Never extend the edge far enough down that it will dig into the tender skin between the toes. For taping against toenail friction, tape the receiving toe, rather than the offending nail.
Between the Toe & Foot
This important method comes in handy for those hard-to-tape areas at the base of your toes or between the toes. Cut a small blister pad of your choice and place it firmly over the area or blister. Fasten it in place with a slightly larger square of tape. Take a long thin strip of tape and run it diagonally, corner to corner, between your toes from the top of your foot to the ball of your foot. Take another long, thin strip and do the same with the two remaining corners. Now you have a pad on the blister, the pad protected by tape, and the whole thing held firmly in place by the four strips attaching the corners to the tops and bottoms of your feet. Now, anchor these strips with the single piece described for the ball of the foot, and the most difficult blister of all is fixed.