Blisters are very predictable. Take three elements, moisture, friction, and heat, common to your feet when you run, and the likelihood of a blister appearing is high. The longer these elements exist on the feet, unattended to, the greater the risk. So, what can we do to reduce one or more of these elements?
The first order of business is to recognize that you, and you alone, need to find what will work on your feet. Others can give suggestions, but what works for another may not work for you. What follows is a synopsis of options you need to consider.
The First Line of Blister Defense
There are several blister reducing options that should be our first level of defense. Proper socks are a key priority. Moisture-wicking socks are available from almost every sock manufacturer, and given a choice, should always be picked before an all-cotton sock. Double layer socks offer an inner layer that moves against the outer layer, reducing friction to the skin. Try several different types of socks of various thickness’ and fabrics.
Lubricants are next on the list. Most runners grew up using a lubricant, usually the age-old standby, Vaseline. Many runners also use Bag Balm, a salve with healing properties. Newer, state-of-the-art lubricants may contain silicone, pain-relieving benzocaine, or antifriction polymers. The trick with lubricants is to reapply them frequently, being sure to clean off the old layer before another application. If your skin becomes too tender from the softening effects of the lubricant, then a powder may be in order.
Powders can help reduce friction by absorbing moisture. This reduces friction between the feet and the socks. Dry skin is more resistant to blister formation than skin that has been softened by moisture. Beware of powders that cake up and cause blisters. Good powders will absorb many times their weight in moisture.
The Second Line of Blister Defense
The second line of defense includes a variety of options. Skin tougheners, taping, orthotics, nutrition for the feet, proper hydration, anti-perspirants for the feet, gaiters, laces, and frequent sock and shoe changes each contribute to the prevention of blisters. Some of these options may be more important for your feet than for mine.
Skin tougheners work three ways. They coat the feet for protection, toughen the skin, and if using tape, help the tape or blister patches adhere better to the skin.
Taping provides a barrier between the skin and your socks to reduce friction.
Orthotics help maintain the foot in a functionally neutral position so arch and pressure problems are relieved. Small pads for the feet may also help correct foot imbalances and pressure points. Reducing these pressure points will help in reducing blisters.
The use of creams and lotions on dry and callused feet helps soften the skin and make it resistant to blisters. The skin needs nutrients, particularly in the heat of summer and the cold of winter.
Maintaining proper hydration helps reduce swelling of the feet, often common after hours of running, so the occurrence of hot spots and blisters is reduced. When you become fluid-deficient, the skin loses its normal levels of water in the skin and easily rubs or folds over on itself, leading to blisters.
Those with extra sweaty feet may find the use of anti-perspirants helpful in reducing moisture on the feet that makes them more prone to blisters.
Any runner doing trail running should wear gaiters to provide protection against dirt, rocks, and grit. These irritants cause friction and blisters as shoes and socks become dirty.
Adjusting shoelaces can relieve friction and pressure over the instep and make footwear more comfortable. Several alternatives to shoe laces are commonly found in running stores.
For those running extra long runs or ultramarathons, frequent sock changes help keep the feet in good condition. Wet or moist shoes and socks can cause problems as the skin softens, maceration occurs, and skin layers separate. Changing the socks also gives opportunity to reapply either powder or lubricant and deal with any hot spots before they become blisters.
Proactive or Reactive
You have the option of being proactive or reactive in managing blisters. The proactive runner chooses to take steps to prevent blisters before they develop. The reactive runner treats the blisters after they develop. Many reactive runners simply think blisters are a normal part of running. Wrong! Working with the blister prevention options above can help eliminate one of the most troublesome problems in running.