This is Part IV in a series of posts about blisters, their formation, causes, and prevention. In this post we look at the 13 components of blister prevention – five major and 8 minor components. They all play a role and are important to understand.
Blister prevention takes place through a combination of 13 components. Five are the most major components: fit, socks, ENGO patches, lubricants, and powders. Eight others are minor but still important components: skin toughening agents, taping, insoles and orthotics, skin care and hydration, antiperspirants for the feet, gaiters, lacing, and changes of socks and shoes.
Within our shoes many things are happening, and everything is related in some way. Where something touches another, we have what we’ll call an interface. The basic interfaces are between the skin and sock, the sock and the insole, and the sock and the inside of the shoe. When you put tape on the skin, it adds two more, between the skin and tape, and the tape and the sock. Adding an ENGO patch adds two more. Since the tape and the ENGO patch are stuck to the skin and shoe respectively, the only interfaces we are concerned with are the tape and the sock, and the ENGO patch and the sock. The interface with the lowest COF determines or limits the magnitude of friction. If the tape loosens on the skin, another damaging interface is added.
The Five Major Components
We’ll start with the top circle comprised of fit, socks, ENGO patches, lubricants, and powders—the first line of defense against blisters. It’s important to remember that these five components and the eight from the next circle all work in some way to reduce shear distortion. They may increase skin resilience; reduce bone movement, pressure, friction, and moisture; absorb shear; or reduce the number of repetitions. Remember that the more you use shear-reducing or shear-absorbing materials in your shoes, the more you are taking that stressor off the skin.
- FIT comes first. You need to start with properly fitting shoes with a quality insole. No matter how well you tape, how good your socks are, or how good any other component is, if the shoes fit incorrectly, you will have problems. If your footwear is too loose, your feet will slide around, creating shear. If your footwear is too tight in certain areas, your feet will experience excessive pressure. Wearing too-loose or too-tight footwear will change the biomechanics of your foot strike, which in turn will affect your gait and throw off your whole stride and balance.
- SOCKS come in either single- or double-layer construction. Some singlelayer socks, particularly those without wicking properties, allow friction to develop between the feet and the socks, which in turn can create blisters. Double-layer socks allow the sock layers to move against each other, which reduces friction between the feet and the socks. Socks can also wick moisture away from the skin. Injinji toe socks give each toe its own sock.
- ENGO BLISTER PREVENTION PATCHES are effective at reducing shear distortion by reducing friction at the skin and sock–shoe interface. The patches are an alternative to taping.
- LUBRICANTS create a shield to reduce friction and protect skin that is in contact with socks during motion. This lubricant shield also reduces chafing.
- POWDERS reduce friction by reducing moisture on the skin, which in turn reduces friction between the feet and the socks.
The 13 components of defense against blisters
Outer Circle: Fit, Socks, ENGO patches, Lubricants, and Powders.
Inner circle: G=Gaiters T=Taping N=Nutrition and Hydration C=Shoe and Sock Changes I=Insoles and Orthotics L=Lacing A=Antiperspirants S=Skin Tougheners and Adherents
The Eight Minor Components
Now, imagine another circle made up of eight components that play a strong supporting role in prevention—the second level of defense against blisters. This innermost circle is made up of skin toughening agents, taping, insoles and orthotics, skin care and proper hydration, antiperspirants for the feet, gaiters, lacing, and frequent sock and shoe changes. Each can contribute to the prevention of blisters and other problems. You could argue that these outer components should be identified as major components, and to some extent you may be right—some components may be more important for your feet than for mine. The trick is to determine what we each need to keep our feet healthy under the stresses of our particular sport. Let’s look at each component.
- SKIN TOUGHENING AGENTS form a coating to protect and toughen the skin. These products also help tape and blister patches adhere better to the skin and lead to a reduction in perspiration.
- TAPING provides a barrier between the skin and socks so friction is reduced. Proper taping adds an extra layer of skin (the tape) to the foot to prevent hot spots and blisters. Taping can also be a treatment if hot spots and blisters develop. ENGO patches can be an alternative to taping or compliment taping. Toe caps are silicone gel devices that go over the toes and absorb shear.
- INSOLES AND ORTHOTICS help maintain the foot in a functionally neutral position so arch and pressure problems are relieved. Some also have absorption qualities. Small pads for the feet may also help correct foot imbalances and pressure points. They can be bought over the counter or be custom made for your feet.
- SKIN CARE for the feet includes creams and lotions to smooth and soften dry and callused feet. This also includes good toenail care. Proper hydration can help reduce swelling of the feet so the occurrence of hot spots and blisters is reduced. These all contribute to skin resiliency.
- ANTIPERSPIRANTS for the feet help those with excessively sweaty feet by reducing the moisture that makes the feet more prone to blisters. It’s another help in skin resiliency.
- GAITERS provide protection against sand, dirt, rocks, and grit. These irritants cause friction, hot spots, and blisters as shoes and socks become dirty.
- SHOE LACES and boot laces often cause friction or pressure problems. Adjusting laces can relieve this friction and pressure and make footwear more comfortable.
- FREQUENT CHANGES OF SOCKS AND SHOES help keep the feet in good condition. Wet or moist socks can cause problems. Changing the socks also gives an opportunity to reapply either powder or lubricant and deal with any hot spots before they become blisters. Sometimes shoes are also changed as they become overly dirty or wet.
The next post will look at how we found the right combination of blister prevention components that will work for us.