Blister Prevention and Treatment

How to Stop Blisters

Checking Foot
Checking Foot. Jill Ferry Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Blisters are a fluid filled sac caused by heat and/or friction. Walkers and runners dread getting foot blisters, which can make for a painful experience. Learn how you can reduce your risk of blisters and what to do if you develop one.

Lubricants to Prevent Blisters

Before you walk or run, use a blister-preventing lubricant on all areas that generally blister.

Some people use petroleum jelly or bag balm, but there are also specialty products such as Body Glide, Blister Shield, SportSlick, and HikeGoo that are non-petroleum and less messy. For blister problems on long walks or runs, use large amounts of petroleum jelly reapplied every 10 miles may help.

Socks to Prevent Blisters

Look for socks with modern synthetic fabrics formulated for walking and running. Podiatrists recommend not using cotton socks as they retain moisture, which then softens the skin, weakening it and making it easier to tear and form blisters. Instead, modern synthetic fabrics such as CoolMax wicks away the moisture so it is not on the skin to weaken it. Many recommend two layers of socks—a thin inner pair of wicking fabric such as polypropylene or CoolMax, and a padded outer pair. Tube socks should be avoided since they do not fit well over the heel and ankle, causing bunching that can lead to blisters.

Change your socks during especially long walks or runs, especially if they get sweaty. Some marathoners also change shoes during the event.

Blister Bandages and Coverups

Blister bandages have a gel pad protects the areas covered. These are available from Band-Aid, Compeed, Dr. Scholls, and store brands.

Look for them in the foot care section of the drug store (not the bandage aisle), running store, or outdoor store. Usually these will stick better to skin than typical bandages and can stay in place for days. It is best to use these to prevent blister formation on areas you know are prone to blister, but they can also be walk-savers to apply as soon as blisters develop.

Moleskin or Sports Tape

Moleskin or sports tape can also be used before or after a blister has developed. Stop as soon as you feel a hot spot and put on the moleskin or sports tape. Some walkers wrap each toe and then also wrap the most blister-prone toes with lambswool.

Shoes to Prevent Blisters

Your walking shoes should not be too snug—a tight shoe will contribute to blisters. But they also have to fit well or a too-loose fit can result in rubbing and contribute to blister formation. To choose shoes of the right size, go shoe shopping right after a long walk or run when your feet are swollen to their largest. When standing in the new shoe, there should be 1/2 inch from the big toe to the end of the toe box and you should be able to wiggle all of your toes comfortably. Then test drive your shoes in the store. Your shoes should not slip when you walk in them.

Toughen Your Skin

Apply tincture of benzoin to sensitive areas (check with your local pharmacy) or simply soak your feet in strongly brewed tea (tannic acid).

Treatment for a Blister

How you treat a blister depends on its size and the risk that it will rupture and tear on its own. If you have diabetes or peripheral vascular disease you should contact their medical provider if you develop a blister.

  • If the blister is small and closed, leave it alone and take steps to keep it from growing larger. Stop walking or running, change shoes, and cover it with a loose bandage. If you can't stop, protect the blister with a donut-shaped moleskin pad leaving the area over the blister open.
  • If the blister is larger than 1 inch across, it is best to drain it. Sterilize a needle with alcohol. Puncture the blister and carefully press the fluid from it. Leave the skin intact, do not peel it off. Gently wash the area with soap and water. Gently smooth the flap of skin over the blister. Apply an antibiotic ointment and a sterile bandage. Do not use alcohol or iodine as they will delay healing. Change the bandage once a day to reduce the chance of infection. Remove the bandage at night to let the area dry.
  • Call a medical provider if signs of infection develop—pain, swelling, redness, tenderness, pus or fever.
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