Why Your Running Shoes Hurt Your Feet and What to Do About It

Running shoes are supposedly extremely comfortable footwear. But why do some running shoes hurt your feet? Is it the design? The fit? Or the way you run? It’s a little bit of everything. 

Your feet hurt when you wear your running shoes often because it does not fit you right. It could also be because of a mismatch between the shoe’s design and your stride. 

That’s because running shoes are built differently that don’t necessarily conform with the shape of your foot. Therefore, whether a running shoe hurts your feet or not is a personal experience. 

Ahead, we will look at some of the most common reasons for pain from running shoes and look into solutions to reduce or eliminate the pain. 

Common Reasons Why Your Running Shoes Hurt Your Feet

  • You picked the wrong size
  • Shoe width (too wide or too narrow)
  • Unsupportive heel counter
  • You’re wearing the wrong socks
  • You’re wearing the wrong shoe for the activity
  • Lacking support level
  • Heel to toe drop too high or too low
  • Shoe cushion

You picked the wrong size

Size is one of the most important things you have to consider when buying a running shoe. 

If you’re not aware, running shoes have to be at least half a size larger than your casual shoes. That’s because you have to account for the swelling of your feet.

As you run, your blood rushes to your lower extremities causing it to swell. This will make your feet bigger and therefore make your shoes tighter. 

Because of this, a lot of problems could arise such as discomfort, dead toenails, and blisters around your foot. 

So before you order a new pair of shoes, make sure you get the right size. I created an article to help you do just that.

Shoe width (too wide or too narrow)

Shoes also differ in width. Some shoes are made narrow to focus on speed while others are wider to promote stability. 

Because of this, not all running shoes will fit you well despite picking the right size. 

Narrow shoes on wide feet can cause huge problems such as blisters on the midfoot or the sides of your pinky. 

In contrast, wide shoes on narrow feet can result in too much sliding inside the shoes resulting in blisters. 

The good thing is, most running shoes have a wide and narrow variation of their shoe models to cater to more feet. So if you feel uncomfortable with the width of the shoe, ask if they have a wide or narrow variation. 

Unsupportive heel counter

When the heel counter is unsupportive it causes your heel to lift slightly as you run. And because the friction of your heel from the heel counter, causes blisters on the heel area. 

When buying a pair of shoes, make sure you check for heel lifts by simply wearing the shoes and walking around. If your heel lifts, choose a different size or a better shoe. 

Pro tip: find a shoe with a stout heel counter. This will keep your foot in place. 

I came across a shoe with an impressive heel counter, the Asics GlideRide 2 (link to Amazon). So, if you’re having troubles with heel lifts, check it out. 

Wearing the wrong socks

Socks play a huge part in your running experience, especially for long runs. 

As a general rule, avoid wearing socks that are made of cotton. They absorb water and cause blisters really well. 

I recommend using socks made of Merino wool. They are moisture-wicking, thermoregulating, and odor-resistant. However, they are quite pricey. 

Socks made of synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon, and spandex like this one are good cheaper alternatives. 

Wearing the wrong type of shoe

If you don’t know this yet, there are different types of running shoes serving different purposes. 

There are light, responsive shoes for speed runs, cushioned shoes for long runs, trail shoes for trails and road shoes for the road, and everything in between. 

Sometimes, when you use a running shoe opposite to its purpose, your feet may hurt. Heel pain, plantar fasciitis, and blisters are some of the common problems associated with using the wrong shoe. 

One way to combat that is building a running shoe rotation. That means, having at least 2 pairs of running shoes that cater to the type of running you usually do. 

For example, a Brooks Glycerin for long and easy runs and an ASICS Metaspeed for faster workouts. 

If you need help building a running shoe rotation, I made a complete guide that may help you. 

Wrong support level

There are 2 primary types of running shoe support level – neutral and stability. 

Neutral shoes are made for runners with a normal level of pronation. In contrast, stability shoes are made for runners who overpronate when running. 

(Related: Neutral Vs. Stability Running Shoes: What’s the difference?)

In choosing a running shoe, you must have your running gait analyzed before picking up a shoe. 

Wearing a shoe that doesn’t match your running gait may cause discomfort and pain (often in the knees). 

By the way, I am an overpronated runner so I wear stability shoes. I’ve been using Brooks Adrenaline GTS for quite some time and I love it. If you’re looking for a pair to try, I suggest you try it.

Heel to toe drop too high or too low for you

The heel-to-toe drop is the difference between the midsole material in the heel and the forefoot. Heel-to-toe drop can range from 0 all the way up to 14. 

Picking the right heel-to-toe drop depends on your preference. But as a general rule, shoes with lower drop puts the load on the ankle while shoes with higher drop put the load on the knees 

That said, if you’re experiencing pain in your Achilles tendon, switch to shoes with a higher heel-to-toe drop. In contrast, if your knees are hurting, try wearing a shoe with a lower heel-to-toe drop.

I made a whole article that focuses mainly on the heel-to-toe drop. If you wish to know more, you can check it out. 

Shoe cushion

The shoe cushion is probably the most important aspect that you need to consider when buying a running shoe. 

There are different levels of shoe cushioning, from soft to firm. The cushion affects speed and comfort. 

The usual practice is that a softer cushion works best for long-distance and easy runs. Firm, more responsive cushioning works well for running short and fast. 

Shoes with a softer cushion absorb more impact from ground contact which makes running less brutal on your joints. However, it does increase the response time of your stride. 

Firm shoes, on the other hand, increase responsiveness but are more brutal on the joints that may result in pain and discomfort. 

The key here is to find the right balance of a soft cushion with the right amount of responsiveness to avoid pain without sacrificing speed. 

The Brooks Ghost 13, is a wonderful example of a balanced shoe, in my opinion. It’s got the right amount of cushioning and responsiveness which works well for my taste. 

Common Pain/Discomfort Caused by Running Shoes

  • Dead toenails/ toe pain
  • Blisters
  • Achilles tendon strain
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Heel pain
  • Forefoot pain
  • Tibialis anterior pain
  • Pain at the sides of your forefoot (bunions)

Dead toenails/toe pain

Dead toenails or toe pain is caused by repetitive trauma between your toes and the shoes. This is more common when running at a high pace or running downhills. 

It occurs when you’re wearing an ill-fitting shoe. Loose shoes will result in the sliding of your foot forward that causes trauma. Too tight will apply constant pressure in the toe area. 

What to do about it:

  • Pick a shoe that is a half size bigger than your casual shoes
  • Pick a shoe with a larger toe box
  • Tighten the laces to prevent your foot from sliding forward (if the shoe is loose)
  • Use a lacing technique that gives toes more space (shown in the video below)


Blisters are a very common thing for runners. It is characterized by a painful, watery bubble of fluid under the skin that is caused by friction.

It occurs in many areas, but the most common are in the toes, heels, and sides of the foot. I even experienced getting one at the bottom of my big toe.

What to do about it:

  • Pick the right socks. Go for Merino wool or any socks with synthetic fabric.
  • Socks must be fitting
  • Pick the right shoe size
  • Sides of the foot – choose an extra-wide shoe variation
  • Toes – choose a shoe half a size bigger
  • In the heel area – lace the shoe using a runners knot (shown below)

Achilles tendon strain (Achilles tendonitis)

Achilles tendonitis is a form of overuse injury that is very common for runners who run long distances or high intensity. It is exacerbated by running uphills and a forefoot running gait.  

What to do about it:

The most effective way to deal with this is to rest. However, you can do something with your shoes to help deal with this problem. 

  • Pick a shoe with a higher heel-to-toe drop (it reduces the load on the ankles)
  • Rotate running shoes to shift the loading more

Plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is another type of injury that is common to runners. It is manifested by pain beneath the heel area that is caused by tightness in the calf muscle. 

What to do about it:

  • Choose shoes with a higher heel-to-toe drop (8-12mm)
  • Find a shoe that has a softer cushioning

A good example of the type of shoes I’m talking about is Gel-Nimbus 21. 

It has a heel-toe drop of 10mm and is a well-cushioned running shoe, thanks to its Gel technology. 

Forefoot pain

Forefoot pain is common to forefoot runners and is caused by repetitive impact in the forefoot area. 

It is manifested by localized pain when running and needs immediate attention. 

What to do about it:

  • Find a shoe with a high stack
  • Wear shoes that have softer forefoot cushioning

Brooks Ghost 13, is a great shoe to wear if you have forefoot pain. It has an extended DNA loft technology from the heel to the forefoot resulting in a more balanced cushioning to help reduce the impact.

Tibialis anterior pain

I don’t know how common this is but I’ve actually experienced this multiple times in some shoes. 

The pain I’m talking about feels a lot like lactic acid formation at the front part of your ankle that happens as you’re running. 

It happens due to repetitive and excessive dorsiflexion. 

What to do about it:

I found great success eliminating it by using shoes with a good heel to forefoot transition. 

I wear the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 21. 

Pain at the sides of your forefoot (Bunions)

Bunions are characterized by protrusions in the base of your big toe due to the long periods of stress applied to your MTP joint. When it happens to your pinky, it’s called a bunionette. 

This is commonly caused by shoes with a tight toe box that squeezes your forefoot. 

What to do about it: 

  • Wear shoes with a wider toe box
  • Wear shoes with a lower drop to avoid being tipped forward
  • Lace your shoes to reduce pressure on the forefoot (shown below)

Final Thoughts

Running shoes play a vital part in your running. The wrong shoes can cause pain and injuries that could easily take the fun out of this activity. 

Therefore, it is important to know about the most common problems associated with running shoes along with their solutions. 

If you need help choosing the right running shoe, I created a guide for you.

Nicho Mauricio

Running wasn't always my favorite sport. I was a CrossFit athlete and I loved every bit of it. But since the pandemic began, I was forced to stay away from the gym and train at home instead. Things got boring. That's when I decided to trail run with my friends. I instantly got hooked. So I started training and researching all things running. As a beginner, I want to buy only the best running gear and do only the best practices. This blog is where I share what I've learned in my journey and my experiences as a runner.

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