No matter how minor or how tiny they are, blisters can be a major annoyance. Just one is enough to make you want to avoid dealing with them, let alone running with one, ever again.
As with most running-related troubles, when it comes to blisters, prevention is the best medicine. Blisters are a result of increased friction against your skin. They’re most likely to strike during long races like marathons or ultras, when it’s wet or humid out or on hilly courses when your feet shift more than usual.
Now that you know when you’re more likely to get a blister, here are some tips on how to prevent them.
1. Make sure your shoes fit correctly. This seems basic, but ill-fitting shoes are a major source of blisters. If your shoes are too small, your toes will rub against the front of the shoe and cause irritation. If they’re too large or wide, your foot may slip around excessively. As a general rule, there should be at least a thumb’s width between your longest toe and the end of toe box. Above all, choose shoes that feel comfortable while running to ensure a good fit.
2. Choose well-fitting synthetic socks. Avoid cotton, as it retains moisture and will tend to stretch out and rub when wet. Socks with reinforced heels and toes also help reduce friction. Socks should fit snugly, with no gapping or excess fabric. If you are prone to blisters, you may find it helpful to use double-layer socks or to double up on socks, which may necessitate going up half a shoe size.
3. Maintain healthy feet and nails. Starting with healthy, moisturized skin, minimal calluses and short toenails will help reduce the opportunity for blisters to occur.
4. Use products to reduce friction. There are many options available, from good old-fashioned petroleum jelly and Body Glide to drying powders.
5. Tape blister-prone areas. While duct tape is popular among trail runners, you can also tape your feet with an inexpensive medical tape called paper tape or surgical tape.
6. Treat your feet sooner rather than later. If you’re out on a long run and feel the beginnings of a blister, take a few minutes to stop, change into dry socks and/or tape your feet. It can make all the difference in preventing multiple large blisters.
If you find yourself with a blister despite all of your prevention efforts, there’s a procedure to follow that will ensure you get healthy as soon as possible.
- Make sure your hands and the affected area are as clean as possible. (This can be tough on the trail, but do your best.)
- Clean a needle or pin with alcohol. Avoid putting the needle in a flame as the residual carbon particles can be irritating.
- Puncture the blister with a needle in a few locations near the edges so it can continue to drain. (Taking deep breaths helps!)
- Apply a small amount of lubricant or antibiotic ointment to the top layer of skin on the blister only — and not around it. This will keep the tape from sticking to the blister itself but allow it to stick to the surrounding skin. It may help to apply an extra tape adhesive like compound benzoin tincture. If the blister is on your toe, you’ll need to wrap the entire toe.
- Wrap with a bandage or tape depending on whether you need to continue running. Make sure whatever you use is applied smoothly and without wrinkles to avoid creating more irritation.
- Once home, you’ll need to apply a clean, dry bandage. In a few days when the blister becomes less irritated, you can remove the dead skin with sterile scissors.
Though blisters rarely pose a serious health risk, their pain can often sideline runners. They require diligence and a little creativity, especially because what works in one situation may not be helpful in another.