The Runner’s Guide to Prevent and Treat Blisters
When I decided to run my first half-marathon, I was determined to be as prepared as possible. I bought new gear, ate the right food at the right times, and stretched and foam rolled like a pro. But the first week into training I started suffering from blisters, specifically around my arches, and tried everything from new shoes to powders, gels, and duct tape (yes, weird, and no, it did not work) to fix my ailment. And apparently I wasn’t alone. Blisters can pack a pretty mean punch when it comes to running and other athletic activities — but there is hope . Read on for your guide to treating and preventing blisters, and how to help keep those footsies pounding the pavement pain-free.
Un-Happy Feet — The Need-to-Know
What’s the deal with blisters in the first place? These obnoxious little bumps or bubbles result from friction against the foot, causing the outer layers of skin to rub together, separate, and fill with fluid (gross). The culprit can be anything from new or poorly fitting running shoes to wet feet caused by non-absorbent socks. Log enough miles, and they’re bound to pop up.
But blisters shouldn’t be ignored, covered with a band-aid, and forgotten for another day. And that’s not just mom talking: Blisters can get infected and cause a whole new world of trouble. Aside from causing localized pain and burning sensations, when blisters are infected they fill with pus (yep, still gross). Even worse: If the blister ruptures, there runs a risk for secondary impetigo (a contagious bacterial infection) or cellulitis (an even more serious skin infection). Continuing to let infected blisters go untreated could also result in Sepsis, a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection in the bloodstream or body tissue. One more word of caution: Individuals with diabetes are more susceptible to foot blisters (as a result of diabetic neuropathy) and should handle treatment with caution to prevent infection . The best bet: Prevent blisters before they start. Here’s how.
Banish Blisters — Your Action Plan
Luckily, there’s more than one way to stop blisters before they ruin a run. From moleskin and Vaseline to better-for-you socks and shoes, we’ve compiled a list of some key ways to spare your feet and keep you on the treadmill for the long haul (that’s right, you’re not getting off that treadmill that easy!).
- Socks: The right socks are super important when it comes to blister prevention. Socks provide extra support for our feet, keep moisture away, and can minimize the friction that leads to those nasty blisters. Steer clear of cotton socks, though, which soak up sweat and moisture and, as a result, are most likely to cause blisters. Try nylon socks instead, which allow for more breathability and less moisture buildup on the foot. Others swear by wicking socks, a wool blend sock that pulls moisture away from your feet.
- Tapes and Bandages: For spots on the feet that are notorious for blisters, try adhering moleskin or other soft but secure bandages to problem areas before throwing on socks. One study showed that Blist-O-Ban bandages not only stayed on sweaty feet but also prevented the formation of blisters when the instructions were followed closely .
- Powders and Creams: Got a well-stocked pharmacy close by? Try a special foot powder like 2Toms Blistershield (simply pour into socks to create a frictionless surface on the foot). Other options for preventative care: Dr. Scholl’s Blister Defense Stick, FOOTGLIDE, or good ol’ Vaseline to keep friction to a minimum.
- Well-fitted shoes: The least we can do for ourselves is make sure we’re wearing the right training shoes — right? Before hitting the road, visit a specialty running store to make sure you’re wearing the best fit. A running specialist can also perform a gait analysis if blisters persist despite bandages, creams, or other means of prevention.
How to Pop that Bad Boy (or Girl)
Before taking action, always check for potential signs of infection with the blister (call up your doc when in doubt). If everything looks otherwise a-OK, those with small blisters have two options: Either leave the blister alone and let the fluid reabsorb in the body (blisters are pretty good at healing themselves when left alone), or… pop that sucker! (See steps below.) For bigger blisters that show no signs of infection, popping is also the preferred RX, always with disinfectant and a sterile needle or pin, of course. Here are the steps to pop them safely on your own:
- Thoroughly wash the hands with warm water and soap.
- Swab the trouble area with rubbing alcohol (or iodine if you’ve got it handy).
- Sterilize a needle (a small sharp needle or a pin — nothing fancy) with the rubbing alcohol you have.
- Try not to freak out about poking yourself with a needle.
- Puncture the side of the blister in several spots close to the blister’s edge. Soak up the draining fluid with a clean piece of cotton, gauze, or tissue.
- Apply antibiotic ointment and place gauze and/or a bandage over the area (think of it as a construction site — you want that whole section quarantined).
- Wait 2-3 days then cut away and remove the dead skin (with sterilized scissors or tweezers and rubbing alcohol to keep the area clean).
- Apply more antibiotic ointment and bandage again until healed.
While there may be more than one way to get a blister, there are at least as many ways to prevent and treat them. Don’t get discouraged if one pops up early on in your running — just assess the issue (STAT!), find a solution that works for you, and get back on the roads when the skin is healed and free from pain.
Have something to say? Tell us in the comments below, or tweet the author at @katiekoerner.
- Managing blisters in competitive athletes. Brennan, F.H. Jr. Primary Care Sports Medicine, Dewitt Army Community Hospital, Fort Belvoir, VA. Current Sports Medicine Report, 2002 Dec;1(6):319-22.⤴
- Are foot abnormalities more common in adults with diabetes? A cross-sectional study in Basrah, Iraq. Mansour, A.A., and Dahyak, S.G. The Permanente Journal, 2008 Fall;12(4):25-30.⤴
- Efficacy of a new blister prevention plaster under tropical conditions. Sian-Wei Tan, S, Kok, S.K., and Lim, J.K., Department of Pediatric Anaesthesia, KK Women's and Children's Hospital, Singapore. Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 2008 Summer;19(2):77-81.⤴
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