Holes In Your Shoes? Possible Causes + 6 Prevention Tips

Most runners have heard the advice that a good pair of running shoes should last somewhere between 300-500 miles (500-800 km) or so. 

After this point, the EVA foam used to cushion the shoe, the rubber on the sole for traction, and the supportive materials used to provide structure and support to the arch, midsole, and heel start to break down.

But, what happens when you get toe holes in your shoes just a couple of hundred miles into running in them? For example, some runners notice that their big toe wears a hole in the top of the shoe. 

How does this happen? Is the mesh upper part of the running shoes just breaking down prematurely? If there are holes in your shoes, do you need to replace them?

If your big toe (or any toe) is poking through your running shoes, this article is for you. We will look at what toe holes in your shoes say about your running form and how to fix them to keep those expensive running shoes lasting as long as they should.

In this guide, we will cover: 

  • Why Are You Getting Toe Holes In Your Shoes?
  • What Causes Holes in the Toe Box of Running Shoes?
  • How to Prevent Toe Holes In Your Shoes
  • Dealing With Toe Holes In Your Shoes

Let’s dive in! 

An old running sneaker with holes in it.

Why Are You Getting Toe Holes In Your Shoes?

While most runners have to look at the soles of their shoes to assess the wear pattern and determine if it’s time to get a new pair, some runners just have to glance down. 

There, they see a hole in the toe of the shoe, where possibly the big toe has worn through the shoe and is sticking out, or perhaps another toe is poking through the mesh upper.

The toe box portion of running shoes is usually crafted from engineered mesh or a single-piece knit. These materials are much less durable than the rubber outsoles, and the EVA foam used to cushion the shoes. 

Therefore, the reality is that getting toe holes in your shoes is not all that uncommon, but that doesn’t make it “normal.” 

Unless your running shoes are super old and should have been replaced hundreds of miles or kilometers ago, wearing a hole in the toe box of your running shoes is usually indicative of a running form problem.

But how do you get holes in your running shoes? 

The simple answer is that running shoe holes are caused by friction, but let’s see how this friction occurs.

A pair of old running shoes on the road.

What Causes Holes in the Toe Box of Running Shoes?

The toe box of a running shoe refers to the area of the shoe that surrounds and protects your toes. Basically, the toe box is the forefoot region beginning around the ball of your foot and extending past the tips of your toes to the end of the shoe.

One of the most common searches relating to holes in running shoes is “big toe wears hole in top of shoe,” which translates to the all-too-common malady of your big toe poking a hole through the mesh upper of the toe box.

Although big toe holes are most common, you can also have holes in other areas of the toe box where lesser toes have poked through the running shoe.

Let’s examine the causes of toe holes in running shoes:

Someone trimming their long toenails.

Toe Holes In Your Running Shoes Can Be Caused By Long Toenails and Shoes That Don’t Fit Properly

The combination of toenails that are too long and running shoes that don’t fit your foot properly can cause one or more of your toes to wear holes through the top of your shoe.

When your toenails extend beyond the soft skin edge of your toe, they create a dull but still effective razor of sorts.

Running shoes are designed to have a protective toe guard at the end of the shoe. 

You will notice the protective toe guard looks like a region of more durable material, such as real or synthetic leather, that wraps around the very end of the shoe rather than a continuation of the flimsier mesh upper.

The toe guard not only protects the tips of your toes from getting hurt if you accidentally kick a stone or ram your foot into something, but it also protects the shoe from wearing down from your toenails rubbing against the mesh.

However, if the size or shape of your running shoe doesn’t align well with your foot structure, your toes and toenails may not be under the protective toe guard. Instead, the sharp edges of your toenails will be under the thinner mesh, where they will put pressure on the mesh as you run and rub and wear away this insubstantial material. 

Eventually, your toes may poke a hole through the top of the shoe.

Toe Holes In Your Shoes Can Be Caused By Wearing Running Shoes That Are Too Small

If the toe box region of your running shoes is too tight, either from a width standpoint or the length of the running shoes is too short for your foot, your toenails will place excessive pressure on the inside edges and tops of the running shoes.

Over time, friction between the edges of your toenails boring into the ends of your running shoes can wear toe holes into the tops or ends of your running shoes.

You should have approximately the width of a thumbnail between the end of your longest toe and the front of the shoe.

It’s important to note that the longest toe is often the second or third toe rather than the big toe, so make sure you are gauging the roominess of the shoe based on your longest toes, wherever of the foot they may be.

A person heel striking.

Toe Holes In Your Shoes Can Be Caused By Heel Striking

When you land on your heel rather than your midfoot or forefoot, the position of your foot causes your toes to be in a more dorsiflexed position.

This means that they are pointing up towards the sky or your shin rather than laying flat in the shoe.

A dorsiflexed position positions your toenails upward in the shoe against the knit mesh upper. 

Considering that the average running cadence is about 170-180 steps per minute when you run, even just a 30-minute run will subject each individual running shoe to about 2,625 instances of your toenails ramming into the thin mesh upper.

It’s a recipe for toe holes in your shoes.

A person checking out the big toe of another.

Toe Holes In Your Running Shoes Can Be Caused By An Inflexible Big Toe

If your big toe sticks up in shoes, there’s a good chance that you have some inflexibility in this toe.

Referred to as hallux rigidus, a reduced range of motion in your big toe (called the hallux) can place the edge of your toenail against the vulnerable mesh when you push off with each stride.

Essentially, when you put pressure on your toes to push off or toe off in your running stride, the big toe should press down or into the ground.

After you land on your foot, your body then moves into midstance, which is when your body passes over the supporting foot. In midstance, your ankle, knee, and hip start straightening from their initial position at ground contact.

However, if the metatarsophalangeal joint of your big toe is stiff or inflexible, the very distal phalanx (the bone in the tip) will still remain in a dorsiflexed position (pointing upwards).

This allows the mesh to fall prey to the sharp edge of your big toenail. Step after step, mile after mile, this accumulated pressure of the toenail against the inside of the mesh can wear out the upper. 

Now you have a toe hole in your running shoes with your big toe sticking out.

A person tying their pink running shoe.

How to Prevent Toe Holes In Your Shoes

Now that we’ve covered the most common causes of toe holes in running shoes let’s move on to actionable advice to prevent holes in shoes.

Here are potential prevention strategies and solutions for holes in the toe box of your running shoes:

#1: Make sure your running shoes fit properly

There should be a thumbnail’s width of space between the end of your longest toe and the edge of the shoe.

The toe box of the shoe should be wide enough and roomy enough that you can freely wiggle your toes. 

#2: Make sure the shape of the running shoe is appropriate for your foot 

People often talk about the importance of getting running shoes that fit, but many runners make the mistake of thinking that this only applies to the actual size of your foot. However, the shape of your foot relative to the shoe also matters. 

Different brands have slightly different foot prints or shapes of running shoes. For example, some running shoes have more of a squared-off toe box, whereas others are pointier and tapered. Still, others are very round. 

If the shape of your foot doesn’t match well with the shape of the toe box of the running shoe, your toes will not be under the protective guard region of the shoe, allowing them to wear holes through the flimsy mesh upper.

A person running.

#3: Trim your toenails

Toenails that are too long and extend beyond the end of your toe have a sharper edge and will damage the inside of the running shoe.

#4: Adjust Your Running Form

If you are heel striking, try to gradually work towards changing your running stride so that you land on your midfoot. This will help prevent the toes from being excessively dorsiflexed and ramming into the top of the shoe.

Heel striking is also associated with an increased risk of injury, and it may limit forward momentum and running economy. Therefore, if you spend some time working towards adjusting your biomechanics to land on your midfoot, you could be improving several factors of your running all at once.

#5: Wear thicker socks

Thicker, cushier socks can provide additional protection for the mesh of your shoes against your toenails.

#6: Try toe yoga

If you have hallux rigidus, try mobilization exercises to increase your range of motion in the big toe.

A person running with high socks.

Dealing With Toe Holes In Your Shoes

So, what should you do if your running shoes have a toe hole?

The first step is trying to identify the cause. Where is the friction coming from?

Then, do what you can to address the causes, as suggested above.

If your running shoes have a hole in the toe and it’s too soon to replace them, you can always use some good old duct tape to patch up the hole while you work on collecting the actual cause of the problem.

Need some guidance choosing running shoes that fit properly to avoid holes in your shoes? Check out our running shoes guide to help you choose appropriately.

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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