Moisture on Your Feet – Moist, Very Wet or Very Dry

September 22, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Health, Sports, Travel 

Back in May I posted an article about Training With Wet Feet. My being invited to work on the medical team at the Jungle Marathons in Vietnam and the Amazon prompted the article. While the Vietnam race had to be cancelled, the Amazon race is happening – in a bit over two weeks.

As I wrote in that article, it was long felt the best way to manage your feet was to keep them as dry as possible. This was more and more evident as Denise Jones and I worked the Badwater Ultramarathon in the heat of Death Valley each July. Runners who kept their feet dry typically finished better than those who had wet feet. This was also based on our experiences at Western States and other events.

Then came the invite to help at the Jungle Marathons.

The Jungle Marathons are run by Race Director Shirley Thompson and the Medical Team Manager is Vicky Kypta. They found their runners had a better race when they trained with wet feet. As part of their instructions to their race participants, they stress the importance of training with wet feet.

The reason for this is the Jungle Marathons are wet. Very wet is typical in the jungle. Whether through rivers or streams, the Amazon is full of water.

When I am helping runners at the race in early October, I will be closely monitoring the condition of their feet. I expect runners will use lubricants and other products to control the moisture, or powder, socks, well-draining shoes, and maybe a few home-grown tricks.

Over the past few months, I have shared some of the findings by Rebecca Rushton, a podiatrist from Australia. In her Blister Prevention Report, she talks about managing moisture control. She supports her report with studies from medical and other professional journals. What she found through the studies is that you could reduce the incidence of blisters by keeping the skin either very dry or very wet.

Rebecca writes that, “… the very high or very low skin moisture strategies aim to reduce the coefficient of friction value between the sock and the skin to below blister-causing levels.”

The Coefficient of Friction

The coefficient of friction (COF) is the number that represents the slipperiness or stickiness between two surfaces. According to studies, this number is generally below 1.0. Inside the shoe, the COF between the foot’s skin, and the sock and insole can range from 0.5 and 0.9. Compare this to the COF between a sock and a polished floor – about 0.2.

In Rushton’s report, she illustrates this with an example of a runner whose feet sweat a lot. His socks become damp, creating a moist condition. The COF in this case might be 0.7. By moving away from a moist condition to either very dry or very wet, the runner might reduce the COF to 0.5. If the runner’s blister-causing threshold is 0.6, getting to 0.5 will reduce his chances of blistering. Reducing the COF between your skin and socks/insole combination is important to having healthy feet.

Moist Skin

Moist skin produces higher friction than very dry or very wet skin. Whether skin is dry and becomes moist through sweat or through a water moisture source, or is very wet and becomes moist through heat or simply drying out, when it hits this middle stage, it becomes more susceptible to blistering.

Very Dry Skin

Drying the skin can be done with powders, antiperspirants or other drying agents, used by themselves or in conjunction with moisture control socks. Keeping the skin very dry is tough because our feet sweat naturally. Humid or hot conditions can also make it hard to keep the skin dry. Dumping water over your head to cool yourself can result in water running down your legs into your shoes – defeating your efforts to keep your feet dry. Airing your feet with shoes and socks off can help. If you use powders, make sure it is high quality and does not cake, which can be an irritant. When counting on any of these methods to keep your skin dry, you mush also have shoes that allow moisture to escape. That may include shoes with mesh uppers and drain holes in the arches and heels.

Very Wet Skin

Increasing skin moisture leads to very wet, lubricated skin that reduces the skin’s coefficient of friction. This can be through the use of a lubricant and or by simply having wet feet. The thing to remember is that over time, 1-3 hours, friction will increase as the lubricant is absorbed into the socks – so ongoing application is required.

Amazon Wet Foot

Amazon Wet Foot

Remember too what happens to your skin when you spend too much time in the water. It becomes weaker and less able to resist trauma on wrinkly skin. In extreme cases, the skin can fold over on itself and split. Severe maceration can be painful and athletes say it feel like a giant blister on the bottom of their feet.

In the Amazon Jungle Marathon, the trick will be to dry the feet at the end of each day’s stage. Because the feet will be wet during much of each day’s stage, the runners will have to find the balance between very dry and very wet, avoiding moist as much as possible.

Here’s some advice from my previous post about training with wet feet.

As said earlier, stop and deal with any hot spots as soon as you feel them. Check for folds in your socks, friction from dirt or sand, pressure inside your shoes – and get rid of these irritants. Lube the area or apply a piece of tape or blister prevention patch to help. This may seem like common sense, but many people ignore this simple step.

At the end of each day’s stage, remove your wet shoes and socks, dry your feet and air them as much as possible. If your feet have tape on them, remove the tape to dry the skin underneath. Wear sandals or Crocs around camp to keep your feet away from the wet ground and dirt and sand. Walking around barefoot will often aggravate wet, cold, and soft macerated skin. Later in the day or the next morning, re-tape your feet and patch any blisters.

Rest assured that I will write about how everyone’s feet held up in the wet Amazon jungle.

Credit is due to Rebecca Rushton for her Blister Prevention Report. Her website is Blister Prevention. Check out her website and sign up for her newsletter and free reports.

Here is the link to the Jungle Marathon Amazon.

If you want to read more, check out this article I did in November 2012 about Stuart Crispin who completed the race in Vibram FiveFingers.

Maceration at Western States

July 7, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Health, Sports 

Last Saturday and Sunday I worked medical at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. I spent Saturday at the Michigan Bluff aid station at mile 55. With the help of Tonya Olson, we patched a bunch of feet. Some had blisters, one needed shoe modification, one had severe heel blisters that had split, and lots of maceration. We saw more maceration than in many past years.

After we closed our aid station at 9:45 pm, I went to Foresthill and talked to George Miller, who was doing foot care there. He had a pretty calm afternoon with nothing unusual.

I found a nice parking space near the finish line at the Auburn High School and spent an uncomfortable few hours trying to get some needed sleep. About 5 am, I headed over to the podiatrity tent and set up my gear. By then, 24 hours into the race, even with about 100 runners in, the tent was quiet.

Around 7 am, things started to pick up. As runners finished, there was a large washtub for them to wash off the dirt. Then they could move to one of the kiddy pools with cold water and ice to soak their feet. Only after that did we see them. As they moved from place to place, Dave, assigned to work finish line podiatrity, and Tonya and I (from Michigan Bluff) looked over their feet and answered any questions. This went on until well after the race ended at 11 am.

This year’s Western States was hot. I’d guess hotter than normal. To my knowledge, there wasn’t that much water on the course. However we saw a large number of runners with severe maceration.

Maceration

Maceration

Here’s a photo of one runner’s foot. This was repeated over and over as we evaluated runners at the finish. Most were convinced that they had large blisters that we needed to lance. In fact, with one or two exceptions, there were no blisters. Just wet, macerated feet with lots of skin folds, creases, and waterlogged skin.

We told the runners that time would heal their feet and to go home or back to their hotel and start a regiment of Epson Salt soaks. The salts help to dry the skin. Powders and airing the feet help too.

Some of the runners had blister with blood inside – some were tinged with pink, indicating blood traces. The decision was made not to lance these blood blisters. When runners have dirty feet and have not showered, and will be walking around in dirty shoes or sandals for a few hours during the awards ceremony, we didn’t want to increase the possibility of infection. In these cases, we gave them the same instruction to do Epson Salt soaks and watch for signs of infection.

A good question is why there was so much maceration. In the heat of the course, often time runners take advantage of every opportunity to keep cool. This includes going through streams, using water soaked sponges at aid stations, pouring water over their heads, and whatever else they can think of. Sometimes well-meaning crew and volunteers squeezed soaked sponges over the heads of runners. The problem is that the water runs down the legs and into the shoes. This helps maceration.

I have seen some runners coat their feet with zinc oxide or SportSlick to help hold moisture at bay. Changing shoes and socks can help, and can be important when maceration has started. Drying the feet and using powder in fresh socks is also important.

Here are four blog posts about maceration and wet feet. Read them to know more about this condition and gain insights about how to manage your feet when wet.

Maceration  – June 23, 2011

Training for Blisters in Wet Conditions – September 15, 2012

Training With Wet Feet - May 5, 2013

A New Kind of Foot Coating – September 25, 2011

Training With Wet Feet

May 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Health 

For years, the norm has been to avoid getting your feet wet. When feet get wet for extended periods, usually the feet have skin that is soft and macerated. In long events, and especially in multi-day events, that can lead to trouble. Taping or patching wet feet, or macerated feet, is very difficult. So it is best to keep your feet as dry as possible.

This has always been the rule.

In the past few years, adventure style races have become popular, which puts runners in conditions where wet feet are the daily norm. Most often, these races are six to seven days in length. The race often includes running through the jungle or mountains with stream crossings, wet foliage, wet trails, mud, and extremely humid conditions. In these conditions, your feet are always wet.

If you think this doesn’t apply to you because you are doing a “dry” race, please consider this. Even dry races with no water crossing can produce wet feet. Dumping water over your head at aid stations to cool off will get water in your shoes. Plus our feet naturally sweat and this buildup can result in wet feet.

Shirley Thompson, the Race Director of the Jungle Marathon told me, “We always advise runners to train with wet feet so that they can focus on a strategy before they get to the jungle. As far as footwear is concerned, we always emphasize trail shoes with good grip, and that comfort is the main factor.”

So how can we do that? For training runs, soak your shoes and socks before heading out. Step in puddles or use a hose if they dry out. Try to keep them wet as long as possible. If you feel a hot spot or blister start, stop and adjust your shoes and add tape, lube or your favorite blister prevention product. Take time to find the best shoe and sock combination for your feet when wet.

Personal Foot Care of Wet Feet

Because your feet will be wet, often at the start of each stage, it makes sense to do some of your training with wet feet. Use the same shoe and sock combination that you plan to use for the race – and get them wet. Walk and run in them. Not just a 30-minute run, but hours! Put some distance on your wet feet that is the same you expect to do during the race. Try to also to do back to back wet feet training days. It’s that simple.

As said earlier, stop and deal with any hot spots as soon as you feel them. Check for folds in your socks, friction from dirt or sand, pressure inside your shoes – and get rid of these irritants. Lube the area or apply a piece of tape or blister prevention patch to help. This may seem like common sense, but many people ignore this simple step.

At the end of each day’s stage, remove your wet shoes and socks, dry your feet and air them as much as possible. If your feet have tape on them, remove the tape to dry the skin underneath. Wear sandals or Crocs around camp to keep your feet away from the wet ground and dirt and sand. Walking around barefoot will often aggravate wet, cold, and soft macerated skin. Later in the day or the next morning, re-tape your feet and patch any blisters.

Because you cannot count on medical people patching your feet the way you want them patched or that they will be available, you must learn how to patch your own feet. I have helped at events where I have patched feet all afternoon and evening, and then had people line up in the morning for more work. Sometimes the medical staff is stretched thin or cannot get to everyone. Be prepared to do your own patching and have your own equipment. Better safe than sorry.

Many times at races, I have seen athletes who have not trained their feet for the event. They enter a race and don’t put the necessary miles on their feet, don’t have the right shoes, don’t know how to manage and patch their feet. I encourage you to take the time to train with wet feet and condition them for the extremes of your race.

Sometimes Your Feet Quit

September 30, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Sports 

In August I worked the Gold Rush Adventure Race in the California Sierras. Throughout the race I worked at three checkpoints. As racers needed foot care, I carried my lounge chair and foot care box to where their team was set up and did what I could.

Most racers had hot spots, blisters and sore feet. A lot of times, athletes tell me that have blisters and yet, after cleaning their feet, none are visible. They may have a very sore spot or a hot spot, but there is no blister. Sometimes I can tape over the area or place a Spenco patch to provide a bit of cushioning. I often add an Engo Blister Prevention Patch to their insole underneath the tender area on their foot.

A lot of the racers needed blister care and taping. My whole aim when patching feet is to get the racers back in the race. I do what I can to drain and patch blisters on any part of the foot.

One of the racers came into checkpoint where they were transitioning from bikes to foot. At this point, they had been on their feet for almost two days. They started with a long paddle, followed with a long bushwack up a canyon, and then a really long bike section. The team was near the end of pack. The four members sat and discussed their options and whether to continue. The next section was a long trek of about 36 miles.

The racer needing foot care took off his shoes. As he sat back in my lounge chair, I removed his socks. His heels were fine, however he had major problems with blisters at the ball of the foot where the toes started. Both feet were the same. I cleaned his feet and did an evaluation.

I wish I had taken a few pictures of his feet but I was too involved in getting his feet patched so the team could continue. At the base of each toe were blisters. Many extended to several toes. Some of the blisters extended up between the toes. The majority had blood in the fluid. There were blisters at the base of the toes from one side of the foot to the other side – on both feet. His feet were swollen so the blistered skin was stretched tight from the fluid. In addition, several of the toes had blisters on the bottoms or sides, several with blood inside.

The blood in the blisters was my major concern and that there were so many of them. I usually drain blood blisters and with clean skin and a dab of antibiotic ointment – in a 24-hour race, I’m comfortable doing that. I always ask the person if they are up to date with their Tetanus shots and give them instructions about infections.

I talked to the racer and gave him my honest opinion – that he not continue in the race. We talked and I gave him my reasons. The next section was about 36 hard miles of cross-country trekking. His feet would get wet, and this would soften the skin and lead to further skin breakdown. The blisters were in a hard area to patch and it would especially be one long patch at the base of all his toes. The swollen condition of his feet was not going to get any better. And most important, the blood in so many blisters, even with the blisters lanced and patch, would increase the chances of an infection. Plus, if his feet took a beating during the trek, the blisters would become a huge open unpatchable mess (for lack of a better term). And of course, his feet would hurt badly.

He took my advice and I wrapped his feet as shown in the photo.

Wrapped feet with blisters all the way across the base of the toes

Wrapped feet with blisters all the way across the base of the toes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think I can count on my fingers how many times I have advised racers to stop because of foot problems. Sometimes your feet simply quit. They have had enough.

Could this have been prevented? Based on my experience, I have to say, probably. Changing socks, treating hot spots, earlier blister care, better socks, moisture controlling lubricants, airing feet at checkpoints, and better shoe fit. In a team event, such as adventure races, every member of the team must help the other members with foot care. Every team member must be honest with their teammates about the condition of their feet. In solo races where athletes are racing alone, they need to be constantly aware of their feet. And where there are crews, these important people must ask questions about the condition of the athlete’s feet.

There are no guarantees in a race of any length. Our feet propel us forward, but every so often, out feet quit.

Training for Blisters in Wet Conditions

September 15, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Health, Travel 

I have worked a lot of events. Every one has its one set of conditions that stresses the participants’ feet. Sometimes, it’s the dry heat of Death Valley or the rainy British Columbia coast, or the ups and downs on the trails of the many trail hundreds.

For years, the norm has been to avoid getting your feet wet. Wet feet often mean skin that is soft and can become macerated. In long events, and especially in multi-day events, that can lead to trouble. Taping or patching wet feet, or macerated feet, is very difficult. So it is best to keep your feet as dry as possible.

And then there’s the Jungle Marathon.

The Jungle Marathon is held in the Amazon Rain Forest of Brazil. This year’s race is held over October 4 to 13.The race is in the stunning State of Para – often referred to as the Caribbean of the Amazon. Competitors have the choice of two distances: 240km or 100km, which will be completed in stages throughout the week. The longer distance will include six stages and the shorter will include four. Imagine running through the jungle with stream crossings, wet foliage, wet trails, mud, and extremely humid conditions. Your feet are always wet.

At the Jungle Marathon runners have to be self-sufficient, carrying their food and provisions during the race. They are provided bottled water at designated checkpoints. Nights are spent sleeping in hammocks at campsites along the shores of the river.

Shirley Thompson is the race director and she stresses, “Our medical team has many years experience in remote locations. Your safety and well-being is our prime concern and we employ only the most experienced personnel to assist us.”

Shirley told me, “We always advise runners to train with wet feet so that they can focus on a strategy before they get to the jungle. We also tell them to buy your book and try to find a strategy that works for them. As far as footwear is concerned, we always emphasize trail shoes with good grip, and that comfort is the main factor.

I personally spend quite a bit of time in the jungle preparing the trail and doing a trial run of the course, and I always use the same strategy, which I found years ago in your book. I spray on two coats of New Skin Liquid Bandage, then wear SealSkinz hi-tops, with a thin lining sock. I have never had a blister.”

Vicky Kypta instructs new medics who join the team on foot care and she gives clinics for competitors in the United Kingdom on foot care and preparation for the race. I emailed her and asked about their strategy for managing runner’s feet. Here is her response.

River crossing

River crossing

“Feet are soaked from the start of each stage, so in the end it made more sense to get people used to their feet being always wet. We found runners had less problems during the race when they had trained with wet feet. There was a lot of hideous feet in the first couple of years of the event before we adopted this strategy.

As far as blister prevention is concerned, we encourage all runners to find a shoe/sock combination that works for them and to train in them including getting them wet. During the race, the runners are told to stop and deal with any hot spots as soon as they start which includes not waiting to get to a checkpoint. It is amazing how just stopping for 20 minutes to deal with feet saves so much time and pain later in the race.

Some runners have their own preferences on how to treat blisters and if they do then we follow their instructions otherwise we tend to drain non-blood filled blisters. On those hardy enough we the inject compound tincture of benzoin to help seal the space created by the blister, to serve as a local antiseptic, and to prevent further abrasion or loss of skin. However, due to the intense burning sensation experienced for a few moments after injection not all runners want this method used – so for all others we drain the blister and then use the benzoin over the top to provide a tacky surface to help the tape stick. Over the top of the blister we then apply a layer of fleecy web and tape over that using zinc oxide tape.

Over toes we just use tape without the fleecy web as otherwise it becomes too bulky resulting in the runner being unable to put their shoe on.

Some runners like to use Compeed on their blisters and whilst they are very good at protecting the blister we have found through experience that with an ultra event such as the Jungle Marathon, they are very difficult to remove should there be any further problems with the blister later on during the race and more damage is often caused in attempting to remove them so we therefore don’t encourage their use.

Jungle Marathon foot care

Jungle Marathon foot care

Over the years we have been very fortunate and have had very few macerated feet as at the end of each stage we get the runners to remove all the tape and to thoroughly dry out their feet. Blisters and problem feet are then freshly taped later that evening or the next morning ready for the next stage.

Despite the incredible punishment the runners feet endure during the Jungle Marathon, year after year we have very few cases of macerated or infected feet which I believe stems from early and effective treatment of problems as they arise.”

Vicky holds foot care clinics including medical care prior to the races to help provide the runners with increased knowledge to enable them to treat themselves more effectively which will hopefully reduce the amount of foot problems even further.

The Jungle Marathon helps their runners successfully complete the race because of their unique approach to foot care. Here are my observations:

  1. They encourage participants to train with wet feet
  2. They even suggest soaking your shoes and socks before heading out for a training run
  3. They give specific advice that runners find the best shoe and sock combination for their feet when wet
  4. After each day’s stage, they have runners remove their tape, which allows the skin to dry out – re-taping afterwards

This combination of advice and attention of the runners keeping their feet healthy for the multiple stages of the race works well. I commend Shirley and Vicky and the Jungle Marathon for their success with foot care.

I encourage you to check out their website and Facebook page. If you are looking for a stage race with adventure, this is a well-organized event.

Here’s the link to the Jungle Marathon’s website.

Here’s the link to the Jungle Marathon Facebook page.

 

Foot Care Advice from Denise

July 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Health 

One of the runners doing next week’s Badwater 135 Mile Ultramarathon recently emailed Denise Jones with questions about managing his feet at this grueling race. Denise cc’d me with her response. I liked what she wrote and decided to use part of it here because it is important information.

[Denise talking about feet getting wet]. How you avoid getting your feet wet is that you avoid getting water sprayed on your legs. It’s your core that needs the cooling anyway. If you are sprayed on the legs, i.e., quads, you have to have it wiped off, then you wipe sunscreen off too. You can survive quite well without getting sprayed on the legs (honest). And, very importantly, you make mental notes about how your feet are “feeling” and address any hot spots BEFORE they grow!

As well, you make sure your crew knows by giving them strict instructions NOT to get you wet below your waist, and if anyone does (they DIE…just kidding). Really. The water that hits your legs runs down the legs into shoes. Depending on how hot it is, which is not looking very hot this year, the water that is sprayed often evaporates. However, if you get those feet wet, then one of the factors that come into play is blisters, i.e., heat, moisture and friction. You can’t avoid heat and friction, so you try to avoid moisture. The tape, as you know, acts as another layer of skin. But honestly, if you do get wet feet, and they blister, then it the athlete either is sucking it up and running anyway with those blisters, which has been done, or drops, which I doubt is on your agenda. Since you are fast, I imagine you are going to be pushing hard and those front-runners can definitely suck it up. When I see their feet afterward, I remark how much better they would have done if they had not allowed their feet to get wet or if they had figured out what works. Certainly socks, sometimes two layers, if you have trained with them and lube, and or powder can work well. Injinji’s often work with a sock over them, with lube and powder under that. The leg sleeves that have become popular now, which I really like, are a culprit I think because they allow water to drizzle into the shoes and socks. While they prevent sunburn, they do act as a catalyst to carry water that is in excess seeping down the legs onto the feet and shoes. That is DEADLY!

What I find is most important is that you have a Plan A – and then Plan B which comes into play if Plan A doesn’t work. Everyone is an experiment of “one”. About the time I think I have the magic combo figured out, someone proves me wrong. Case in point: KNOW YOUR FEET and what causes you problems and address that with a plan and then a backup plan if that fails. Then maybe you won’t need to use it once you are underway. All bets are off if you are pre-taped and those feet get wet because wet tape is not a good barrier. Duct tape is too hot and does not dissipate heat, though it can withstand moisture, often the feet macerate underneath.

Hopefully you do not have deep callus. That is also a “no-no” in my book in Death Valley because we cannot drain deep blood blisters because the callus can’t be penetrated.

Good advice from Denise – a pro about foot care in the heat. I’ll be back next week with a report from Badwater.