Preventing and Treating Blisters for Runners
Most runners are painfully familiar with blisters that show up at the most inconvenient times. Whether completing a short training run or participating in a marathon, the prolonged friction between your skin and your socks and shoes can result in painful blisters. Depending on the severity, it potentially can get in the way of training and even get infected.
Though blisters are rarely a serious health risk, runners need to know what to do if one does pop up. There are several ways to prevent and treat blisters so you can keep running comfortably!
Blisters form due to friction, usually between the feet and socks or shoes, and anything that intensifies the friction increases the probability. Factors like increased speed, improper footwear, and heat or moisture cause more friction and lead to blister formation. Before one of those red, raised bubbles makes an irritating appearance on your feet, there are steps you can take to get ahead of the discomfort.
1.) Get Shoes That Fit: One essential step in blister prevention is appropriately fitted shoes. Blisters are almost guaranteed if your shoes are too big or too small. Finding running shoes that fit comfortably will reduce the friction between your foot and the shoe, allowing your feet to be adequately supported and protected. There should be a thumb’s width of space between your toes and the end of the shoe. For an extra layer of protection, coat potentially risky areas with drying agents like baby powder or anti-chafing powder to reduce the amount of sweat accumulation. Your heels, toes, and the ball of your foot are common areas to develop blisters, so these areas should be addressed first.
2.) Wear Soft Bandages: If you’re about to go on a long run, cover problem areas like your heels with soft bandages. Doing this provides a semi-padded buffer between your foot and shoe, reducing direct friction and protecting you from blisters.
3.) Stop Running When You Feel Pain: Blisters don’t appear out of nowhere. You’ll feel some pain or stinging where the skin is beginning to rub off, and the blister is starting to form. Stopping the activity causing friction allows you to assess the situation and take further preventative steps so you don’t end up with a full-blown blister.
While prevention is generally practical, it’s not much help if you already have a blister that needs treatment. The severity ranges widely and can present as a tiny bubble or a huge reddish-purple sore. It is always important to treat blisters properly so they don’t get worse and land you on the sideline for too long. Because of the varying presentations of each case, there is a spectrum of treatment options.
1.) Leave It Alone: No matter the size of your blister, the first step should always be to leave it alone for a couple of days and allow it to heal (or start healing) naturally. Touching the blister or popping it at home opens the area up to all the bacteria that typically live on the skin. Touching or popping it could lead to infection and worsen the blister.
2.) Cover The Blister: Placing a soft bandage, or a small piece of moleskin wrapped in gauze around the area allows the swelling to go down, gives the blister a chance to dry out, and reduces further friction that could make it worse. Zinc Oxide tape is a helpful product for both active blisters and those that have already healed. If the blister is still healing, place gauze on the area and tape over it. If the blister is healed, and you want to prevent further issues, tape over the area. Compeed Blister Plasters are a good option available at most drug and grocery stores. They expand in response to friction, enhancing cushioning and amplifying protection. Ensure the bandage or tape is secured because a dressing is loose or falling off can cause even more unwanted friction.
3.) Try Not To Pop It: Though some blisters are particularly tempting to pop, you should avoid doing this at home. The characteristic “bubble” of blisters forms a sterilized barrier from infection and contains essential nutrients that the skin needs to heal. It is best to let the blister heal on its own, protected by a sterile dressing. If the blister is too painful and you feel it needs to be popped, it is best to go to a doctor who can aspirate it in a clean environment with the proper equipment. As an absolute last resort, you can pop the blister on your own, but safety measures must be taken. Wash your hands and foot thoroughly and use a sterile needle. Once it is popped, do not remove the surrounding skin because it is crucial to proper healing. Drain the fluid and clean the area again before covering it with a dry bandage or dressing.
4.) Identify The Cause And Fix It: Once the blister has been treated, try to figure out why the blister occurred in the first place. Was it your shoes? Do your feet sweat a lot and create excess moisture? Do you frequently run in areas with lots of hills? All of these things could be contributors to the development of your blister. Try to identify possible reasons for extra friction and do your best to eliminate these from your run. Whether you need to buy new shoes or sprinkle some baby powder in your socks, preventative measures are worth keeping you running safely and comfortably.
When It’s Safe To Run Again:
The pain of untreated blisters can change how you run over time. Since the feet are the foundation of your body, changing how you bear weight during a run will affect things like balance, gait, and the other joints and muscles in your legs. Though you may feel like you’re not favoring the area during a run, the body is programmed to redistribute weight to avoid pain. Though it takes three weeks for the epidermis to grow from its deepest layer to the outer layer, you shouldn’t be sidelined for this long. Generally speaking, it typically only takes one to three days for the fluid to reabsorb into an intact blister. You should avoid running during these couple of days, and then after that, you can cover the area with a dry, sterile bandage to reduce friction and get back on your feet! If your blister doesn’t heal on its own in a few days, consult a doctor to discuss professional treatment.