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How to Prevent and Treat Running Blisters

Blisters are one of the most common issues for runners, especially for longer distance runs. Even though blisters are not a bad injury, they can be quite painful and affect our run or race. 

What Causes Blisters?

Once our body temperature rises and gets hot from either intense effort or long-distance, our feet start swelling, then rubbing between the shoe, sock, and skin. When the skin becomes damaged due to the friction, a clear fluid bubble forms on the outer layer of the skin to protect the bottom layers from infection. 

Main Causes of Blisters for Runners

1.Improper shoe fit: Shoes that are too small or laced too tight can cause blisters. Shoes that are too big can cause the feet to swipe around the inside, and rub against the shoe. To find shoes that fit properly is very important. For long-distance runs, shoe toe box should be a bit wider to fit the foot size after swelling. Finding the right shoes that fit perfectly will reduce friction.

2.Wet conditions: Running in rain or mud, will wet and soften the skin, increasing the chances of blisters. Combination of body heat, sweating and wet conditions can be intense impact on the skin.

3.Uneven terrain or surface: Running on uneven surfaces like trails, or running downhill causes the foot to move in different motions in the shoe and can create a hot spot. Other issues that can cause blisters are bunions, heel spurs, hammertoes.

Most Common Areas of Blisters

  • Heels

  • Arch

  • In between toes

  • On top of toes

Should we Keep Running with Blisters

As long as you can handle the pain from the blisters, you can keep running. As long as there is no infection, after the run it can be treated easily. For long-distance races, popping the blister is important to prevent infections.

How to Prevent Blisters While Running

1. Wear the right shoes- Finding the perfect shoe fit almost doesn’t exist. Depending on the type of run, the distance, shoe fit will differ. Alternating between at least two pair of shoes can save many issues including blisters. Your feet will not get too accustomed to one particular fit that can cause problems. Having access to two different pair of shoes for trail runs, and two pairs for road runs will protect your feet. Runners need different shoes for longer distances that short runs. For long-distance runs, especially on the trail we have to buy shoes at least 1/2 size bigger to accommodate for the extra space our feet will need once they warm up and swell up. Make sure you wear new shoes at least two weeks before a race, to make sure they fit properly and adjust to your foot form.

2. Use foot powders or anti-chafing- Blisters are a form of chafing, using anti-chafing in the sensitive areas of the feet before a long run will help to avoid blisters. Gurney Goo is very helpful. Another option to reduce the chances of blisters is using foot powder, which helps absorb moisture caused by sweat or other wet conditions.  

3. Sports tape- If you're prone to blisters, using sports tape can help protect the sensitive areas. Avoid using regular Band Aids, they tend to come off easily, so no protection for long-distance runs.

4. Wear the right socks- Socks are also a crucial part of the blister prevention, wearing the wrong type of socks can cause many issues, including blisters. Never wear cotton socks, instead look for moisture-resistant socks. Again, make sure you test new socks for a few weeks before a race. 

How to Treat Blisters

Light blisters will heal on their own within 3 days to 1 week. The key is to treat them as soon as possible to protect it. 

  • Wash and disinfect the blister

  • If it’s a more intense blister, after cleaning apply some Band Aid or gauze and tape to protect.

  • If it’s a mild blister after cleaning leave it uncovered and wear sandals if the weather permits. 

  • If it’s a deep blister and it hurts, you can take a day or two off running.

Intense blisters need to get popped to avoid infections and speed up the healing process. Also, during a long-distance race, if you have big blisters they need to get popped to minimize the risk of infection and pain. During a race, you can go to a First Aid station at some checkpoint to get medical help. 

How to Safely Drain a Blister?

  • Wash your hands first.

  • Sterilize a needle or safety pin using rubbing alcohol and a clean cotton pad.

  • Gently puncture the blister in several spots, trying to stay as close to the base of the skin. Absorb the released liquid with a clean cotton pad.

  • Apply disinfectant liquid or antibacterial ointment to the affected area.

  • Cover the blister with a bandage or gauze and medical tape.

  • Disinfect and change the bandage twice daily.

  • Depending on the intensity of the blister, you might have to use a needle a few times to keep popping if it swells up again.

Train Well, Protect your Feet, Run Feeling Strong!


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