How to Prevent and Treat Foot Blisters When Running

Tips for Runners

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Most runners have had at least one run or race ruined because of a painful foot blister. By knowing the usual causes and symptoms you can take steps to prevent them. If you get a blister despite your efforts, you will need to know how to safely treat it.

Causes

Blisters on the feet are usually caused by friction, typically between your skin and your sock. Excessive moisture due to sweaty feet or wet conditions can soften your skin, making it more susceptible to friction and blisters. Wearing running shoes that are too small or tied way too tight can cause blisters. But so can wearing shoes that have a sloppy fit and allow too much movement of your foot.

Prevention

Use these tactics to prevent foot blisters from running:

  • Shoe Fit: Your feet swell when you run, so your running shoe should be at least a half of a size bigger than your street shoe. You should have a little room in your toebox. You can learn to lace your shoes for a better fit so your foot doesn't move around too much within the shoe.
  • Socks: Buy socks specifically made for running, such as WrightSocks. Look for socks made of synthetic fiber (not cotton) such as CoolMax. These fibers wick moisture away from your feet. Running socks are anatomically shaped, helping prevent the sock from bunching up and causing blisters. Also, buy socks with a smooth surface and no seams. Some runners wear double-layer socks created to deter blisters. The idea with those socks is that any friction occurs between the two sock layers instead of your skin and the sock.
  • Lubricant: You can also spread a lubricant such as BodyGlide or Vaseline on problem areas. Go easy as too much can allow your foot to slide around in your shoes.
  • Tape or Pads: Some runners put moleskin or athletic tape over "hot spots" on their feet that are prone to blisters, as a preventive measure. If you do this, just make sure the moleskin or tape is applied smoothly (no wrinkles) and is not too tight.
  • Keep Your Calluses: If you go for a pedicure, make sure they don't remove your calluses with a razor or emery board. The callused skin serves as blister protection for your feet. If it's removed, you'll be more at risk for blisters.

Signs and Symptoms

You've probably seen foot blisters before. They are small bubbles of skin filled with clear fluid. They can appear anywhere on your foot but are more common in areas where there is the most rubbing (toes, heel, and ball of the foot). Some are painless, but others can be extremely painful—enough to cause you to stop your run. Sometimes, by the time you check your feet, the blister will have burst and you may have a raw spot that may or may not bleed.

Treatment

The first choice in treating foot blisters is to just leave it alone. The skin serves as protection. It will eventually break and the fluid will drain. If you need to continue running, cover the blister with a bandage to provide more protection. If you have the supplies, you could also create a doughnut-shaped protective covering from moleskin.

If you're running in a race, such as a marathon, and you develop a painful blister, stop at one of the medical stations. They'll be able to treat your blister and hopefully get you back in the race.

If the blister is painful or at risk of bursting on its own, you can choose to drain it while leaving the skin intact. You should sterilize a needle by wiping it with rubbing alcohol, passing it through a flame, or boiling it for five to 10 minutes in water. Carefully pierce the blister at points around its edges. Press the fluid out and use an antiseptic cream on it. Cover the area with a product such Band-Aid Blister Block or moleskin to protect against infection and provide cushioning.

Change the bandage daily and check the blister for signs of infection such as redness and pus. See a doctor if you see any signs of infection. If you have diabetes, you are more at risk of an infection and you will need to take extra care.

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