After a 5-mile trail run I ended up with blisters on my feet. What should I do about them? – Gretchen L.; Eldersburg
A: Blisters are a common foot problem for runners. Caused by friction, heat, dirt, moisture, and shoes that are too small, blisters are small bubbles of skin that are typically filled with clear fluid. Some blisters are painless; others are extremely painful, forcing you to discontinue your run.
“Friction causes layers of skin to separate and foot blisters are the painful pockets of air or fluid that form between the layers,” says Lori Weisenfeld, M.D., a New York City sports podiatrist.
To avoid blisters, which, according to running.about.com, “are usually caused by friction, typically between skin and sock,” and excessive moisture due to sweaty feet or wet conditions, avoid running in wet shoes or during heavy rain, and be sure to use socks made specifically for running. Socks should be made of synthetic fabrics, not cotton, to wick moisture away from your feet and prevent the sock from bunching up. Socks should also be smooth and seamless. For an additional layer of protection, consider coating problem areas with a layer of Body Glide or Vaseline, or covering “hot spots” on your feet with carefully applied moleskin, a softer, more breathable bandage alternative.
Wearing running shoes that are too small, or otherwise ill-fitting, or tied too tight can also cause blisters, so be sure to make sure your shoes fit properly. Since your feet swell when you run, running shoes should be at least a half size larger than your regular shoes and should have extra room in the toe box. Break in new shoes slowly and consider wearing them around the house for a few days before running in them to determine if they are rubbing anywhere.
Calluses provide blister protection for your feet so, if you go for a pedicure, be sure calluses are not removed with a razor or emery board; doing so, running.about.com warns, could put you at a greater risk for blisters.
If you already have a blister, to pop or not to pop is always the question. If the blister is not painful, simply leave it alone; it will eventually break and drain and, meanwhile, the skin serves as protection and prevents infection. If the blister is painful or debilitating, or if you need to drain a blister so you can continue with the activity that caused the blister, you need to do so in a clean, sterile and safe manner.
Sterilize a needle by boiling it for several minutes or, wash it with soap and water and then rub with alcohol. Clean the area around the blister and carefully piece the blister where it meets the skin, allowing the fluid to drain out. Leave the remaining skin intact, apply an antibiotic cream, and cover with gauze and moleskin or a Band Aid to provide cushioning and help prevent infection. Change your bandage daily and allow the area to air dry when possible. Womenshealthmag.com notes that the deeper the blister, the longer it will take to heal.
Although blisters are common and most are easy to treat, if you feel uncomfortable treating it on your own or suspect that the blister may be infected, contact your local podiatrist for professional assistance.