Running Blisters: Avoiding the Inevitable?

Dealing with blisters is a pain – everyone who has the unfortunate luck of getting one knows that. If you’re reading this then you probably already know that those red, painful, raised areas along your feet and heels are the absolute worst, and inevitable part of running or exercising. Many runners get blisters, and other types of pain during races, especially marathons where the ability to slow down and/or change your socks or alternate your running style is just not an option. 

While most runners can deal with the pain of blisters, they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Painful blisters can completely sideline a runner for days or even weeks if the blister gets infected. Is there a way to avoid running blisters before they start?

Common Causes of Blisters

Annoying and painful, blisters are caused by friction. The most common causes of running blisters are socks, or ill-fitting shoes, rubbing against your skin. Anything that intensifies rubbing can start a blister, including heat & moisture, running speed, and improperly sized shoe wear. 

Blisters occur during long runs or races when pacing and mileage are increased and friction occurs without intervention. Your body’s response to this friction and trauma induced on the skin is producing fluid to fill up the affected area and dampen the friction.  And since moisture is also a factor, races and long runs make blisters occur even more quickly.

Blister Treatment

If you have a small blister that’s not prohibiting your movement, as tempting as it is to touch it, just leave it alone. When the skin and the membrane of the skin are compromised by popping the blister, all of the bacteria that live on the skin normally can invade and could cause inflammation or infection. You could end up making a very small problem much bigger by puncturing the barrier. You should also leave small blood blisters intact, too. Otherwise, you risk getting bacteria in your bloodstream. Cover it up so it goes down, then try to fix the problem that caused it.

Blister Care

  • Clean the area with mild soap and water and allow it to dry.
  • Cover the blister with a bandage.
  • You may want to make a donut area around the blister to protect it further, cutting strips of a product like moleskin makes it easy to protect it.
  • Check your footwear and switch to shoes or sandals that won’t rub against the blister area.
  • Use this as a chance to avoid getting a blister in the future. Analyze what you did (or didn’t do) that led to getting the blister then seek out proper attire and equipment to prevent it from happening again.

In severe cases, a blister may be quite painful and could even prohibit you from continuing on your race or wearing any shoes at all. If you feel the need to drain the blister, consider contacting a health professional. If you are unable to and feel you really need to drain it (which should be your last resort!) here’s how to do it safely.

  • Wash your hands and the blister with warm water and soap.
  • Swab the blister and area with an antiseptic like iodine or rubbing alcohol.
  • Sterilize a clean and sharp needle by wiping it with an antiseptic.
  • Gently puncture the blister in a few spots near the blister edge. Let the fluid drain (applying very gentle pressure if necessary) and do not remove the overlying skin.
  • Immediately apply an antibiotic ointment to the area and cover with a bandage or gauze.
  • Consider avoiding the activity that caused the blister in the first place – in order to allow it to heal properly.
  • After several days, you can cut away the dead skin using sterilized scissors and tweezers.
  • Apply more ointment and a bandage or gauze.
  • Seek medical advice immediately if you notice redness, pus, warm or inflamed skin or increasing pain as these could all be signs of a serious infection.

Blister Prevention

To stop blisters before they even start to form, make sure you are wearing the right sized shoes. Shoes that are too small will cause blisters under the toenails or on the “knuckle” of the toes. Your socks should fit smoothly with no extra fabric bunching up at the toes or heels. If you suspect yours don’t fit, head to your local running store to have an associate help you find your size, while you are there, look for socks that are moisture wicking. These socks draw moisture from areas that have high potential to blister, keeping your feet dry and blister free.

Use Foot Glide® balm when you are running to prevent chafing and blisters from occurring. Foot Glide® balm provides an invisible, protective barrier between your skin and your shoes keeping you blister free from the moment you lace up until you kick them off.  

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