Foot Problems at Western States

June 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Health, Sports 

This weekend close to 400 runners will start at Squaw Valley and make the trek over the Sierras towards Auburn – 100 miles away. It’s the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race. I love the race, having completed it three times in the late 80’s. It’s tough and throws a lot at the runners. Cold, heat, extreme heat, streams running down the trail, rocks, dust and grit, water crossings, long ups and long down through numerous canyons – and for many runners, a second sunrise with renewed heat.

Toe Blister

Toe Blister

I will again be working at the Michigan Bluff aid station doing foot care. Later, I will be at the finish line taking care of feet as people finish. Having worked this race for years, I have a good idea of what foot problems to expect. Here’s what I commonly see and a few tips.

First, here are common problems:

  • Toe blisters. Under the toenail, on the tips of toes, between toes, and under toes.
  • Heel blisters. Either at the rear of the heel or at the sides.
  • Ball of the foot blisters. Either in a certain area or across the whole foot.
  • Side of the foot blisters.
  • Stubbed toes. From hitting rocks or roots.
  • Sprained ankles.
  • Sore feet.

Here are some tips:

  • Cut toenails short and them file them smooth. No rough edges to catch on socks or hit the toebox of your shoes.
  • Reduce your calluses as much as possible. This close to the race, don’t file too much off. Aim to get reduce the thickest rough patches.
  • Use Engo Blister Prevention Patches in problem areas – sides of the heels and ball of the foot. They will greatly reduce friction and shear.
  • Pretape any problem areas.
  • Check your insoles for thick edges at the sides of the heel – always a problem area. Thin these down or change insoles. Most side of the heel blisters are caused by these edges.
  • Don’t use Vaseline as a lubricant. Stick to SportSlick, BodyGlide, or a similar lube.
  • Change socks frequently and clean your feet. Today’s trails shoes often have mesh uppers, which allow sand, dirt, and trail dust inside the shoe, on and into your socks, and on your feet.
  • Know how to manage your feet and patch blisters on your own – or your crew should have these skills. You can’t count on aid station people knowing what you need or want or doing it on your time schedule. There may be other runners in front of you or they may be out of supplies.
  • If you feel something inside your shoe, stop and clean it out. Even a small rock can cause problems.
  • Wear gaiters to keep rocks and trail grit and dust out of the top of your shoes.
  • Build your own quality foot care kit. Stock it with what you need and learn to use everything.

Maybe I’ll see you at Michigan Bluff. I hope it’s just to say Hi as you run through.

Have a great race.

An Introduction to Shear and Blister Formation

June 17, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Health, Sports 

This is a guest post by podiatrist Rebecca Rushton from Australia. She has looked at blisters, how they are formed, what causes them, and how to prevent them. For years, the common thinking about blister causes has been friction, heat, and moisture. Rebecca’s research has led her to identify shear as a leading cause of blisters. Read the article and then check out her website. Over the next months, Rebecca and I will take an in-depth look into blisters, their formation, and treatments. Her website Blister Prevention has a lot of valuable information on blisters (more on that at the end of this post). Here’s Rebecca’s article.

An Introduction to Shear and Blister Formation

Foot blisters continue to wreak havoc with endurance athletes’ feet in spite of their best preventative efforts.

Poor blister prevention outcomes are due in no small part to the misunderstanding of the cause of this obstinate injury.

The force that causes ‘friction’ blisters is not friction. And it’s not rubbing. It’s shear. But if you ask 100 people the question “what causes blisters”, nobody would answer “shear”.

Shear is the sliding of layers across one another – internal layers that are structurally connected. Those connections can break and when fluid fills that cavity, you have a blister!

What Does Shear Look Like?  Try this …

Step 1: Place the tip of your right index finger on the back of your left hand.

Step 2: Wobble it back and forth but keep it stuck to the same bit of skin. Notice how your skin stretches? This is shear and this is what causes blisters.

Shear might look like rubbing but it’s not. Notice how your finger tip has not moved relative to the skin of the back of your hand? But your hand skin has moved relative to the underlying bone. This is shear. Your skin doesn’t need anything to rub over it for blisters to form. It just needs shear (this stretching of the internal tissue layers) to be excessive and repetitive.

Rubbing Causes Abrasions

Most of us use the term rubbing to mean two surfaces moving across one another – like when you rub your hands together.  The type of skin injury that rubbing causes is abrasions. An abrasion is where the top layers of skin are rubbed off – you end up with a red raw sore. Blisters (from shear) and abrasions (from rubbing) are completely different entities – they have different mechanisms of injury and affect different layers of the skin. Here’s a video on blisters versus abrasions on the feet.

Is the distinction important? Yes it is. The lack of understanding of blister causation is at the heart of why foot blisters continue to plague athletes.

Achieving True Blister Prevention Success

There are 3 factors that influence shear. Impacting on these is how we can minimise shear and prevent blisters.

1) Type of skin

Thinner and more mobile skin (like we saw earlier on the back of the hand) will abrade before it blisters.  In contrast, thicker and less mobile skin (like on the palm of your hand) is the type of skin more likely to form and maintain a blister.  Do the same experiment we did before but with your index finger on your palm – the skin is noticeably thicker and less mobile in comparison. (This is why blisters are most common on the soles and palms)!

Apart from the thickness and mobility characteristics which determine the ability to blister (and which you can’t do an awful lot about), shear is influenced by two other factors: friction and bone movement. You need both, not just one, to create skin shear. The good news is that these things we really can change! Change one or more of these, in one of many ways, and you can successfully prevent foot blisters.

The cause and influencing factors of foot blisters

The cause and influencing factors of foot blisters

2) Friction

Friction is the force that resists the movement of one surface against another. It’s the degree of slip or grip between surfaces. Low friction (slippery) is when two surfaces glide easily against each other. High friction (sticky) is when the two surfaces tend to grip together.

The moist in-shoe environment during exercise causes high friction levels between the shoe, sock and skin. This causes these materials to stick together … yes the shoe sticks to the sock and the sock sticks to the skin … for longer.  They all stick together for longer because of high friction.

3) Bone Movement

Meanwhile, as we run the bones move back and forth. With the skin remaining stationary (for longer) and the bones moving back and forth as far as they can go, the soft tissue in between stretches – that’s what shear is.

This concept of friction and bone movement leading to shear is depicted in the diagram below and in this video demonstrating shear.

Orange = shoe | White = sock | Brown = skin | Purple = section of soft tissue undergoing shear
Orange = shoe | White = sock | Brown = skin | Purple = section of soft tissue undergoing shear

The purple area is a section soft tissue between the skin surface and its underlying bone. Although the heel itself has not lifted within the shoe due to high friction levels, the bone has moved up relative to the skin surface causing shear to the soft tissues in between.

About Rebecca

Rebecca’s website Blister Prevention has a lot of valuable tips and techniques, and information on blisters. Take some time and explore the site, subscribe to updates and receive a copy of her ebook, Blister Prevention for Active People. Rebecca is a podiatrist in Australia.

Next Up? More on Shear and Blister Treatments

Over the next month or two, we will talk more about shear and common blister treatments – including what works and doesn’t work. Make sure you are a subscriber to this blog to receive each post. You can do that at the box at the upper right side of this page.

Blister Treatment or Prevention?

June 3, 2013 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Footwear, Health, Sports, toenails 

Which is more important, blister prevention or blister treatment?

For more than 17 years, I’ve taught foot care techniques to anyone who will listen. I have taught classes at running stores, REI stores, events, and more. In addition, I have worked medical at many races, helping provide foot care to participants. These races have been in Death Valley, Chile, Costa Rica, BC Canada, Colorado and Washington, and many in California. This year I will be at Western States 100, Badwater, the Gold Rush Adventure Race, the Jungle Marathon in the Amazon, and hopefully at races in Colorado and Namibia.

I have never counted the feet I have worked on but I would put the number well over 3000. I remember one race in Colorado in 2010 when I saw the same lady 10 times. It was a six-day stage race and she’d come in every evening and morning! I’d patch her feet in the evening and she’d take it off when she went to bed in her tent. She had foot wear issues that gave her blisters on top of blisters. She was never into prevention mode – only treatments.

In this picture, taken from the cover of the 5th edition of Fixing Your Feet, we see treatment taking place. I love the picture. I even know whose foot it is. What I can’t tell you is what he did for prevention. I wish I knew.

FYF Cover Image

FYF Cover Image

My question in this blog post is what should we spend more time on, blister prevention or blister treatment?

Prevention can take many forms: good choices in footwear, the right socks, lubricants and powders, toenail care, skin care, taping, Engo patches, correct lacing, the right insoles, and training and conditioning.

Treatments likewise offers many options: blister draining, many different types of patches, taping, ointments and salves, a multitude of tapes, wraps and straps, silicone pads, Engo patches, toe caps, and lubricants and powders.

So here are a few questions:

  • Does prevention last only until the race starts?
  • What are your best prevention options?
  • How much do you count on aid station personnel to manage treatments?
  • Do you know how to treat your feet?
  • Do you carry materials to treat your feet?
  • What are your best treatment options?
  • How well do you understand blister formation and prevention?

For 17 years, athletes have had Fixing Your Feet as a resource to learn important information about foot care. As I patch feet at races, I try to educate the athletes about what I am doing and why, and what could have helped in their feet. If crews come to me for advice, I try to help them too. I have watched athletes and crews work on feet with materials and using techniques I have long preached.

In general, foot care has advanced over the years. Shoes, socks and insoles have become light years better. Lubricants, powders, blister patches, and our tools are better. People interested in foot care are trying new blister patching techniques.

All this is good because every day there are new athletes coming into running, adventure racing, hiking and thru-hiking, walking, and other feet stressing sports. Let’s make sure they understand the importance of prevention before treatment.

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