When you worry about getting injured from running, walking or some other part of your fitness routine, you expect it’ll be something major, like a wrenched knee or a sore back. Actually, an injury smaller than the size of a dime is more likely to take you down this summer.
I’m talking about blisters, those tiny, puss-filled hot spots that crop up on your feet, especially on the toes, heels and edges. Blisters are caused by friction and irritation, usually from something that scrapes against your foot. Some exercisers are more prone to blistering than others, but everyone is more susceptible during hot, humid and wet weather.
The best way to deal with blisters is to avoid them in the first place. Since I am insanely blister-prone myself, I have given blister prevention and maintenance a lot of thought. Here’s my three point strategy:
Footwear that’s too roomy is more often the culprit than shoes that are too tight, because your feet slide, rub and bump when there's extra space. I know some of you buy athletic shoes that don’t quite fit right in the hopes you can break them in. Mistake, mistake, mistake! Shoes should feel comfortable from the instant you take your first step until the moment you replace them. They shouldn’t require any stretching, padding or taping to make them wearable.
A properly fitting shoe has the same basic shape as your foot: It’s wide where your foot is wide and narrow where your foot is narrow. There should be about a thumbnail’s space between your longest toe and the front of the shoe when you’re standing with your weight evenly distributed and, when you lace them up, your foot should stay firmly in place without feeling like it’s in a straightjacket. Don’t risk buying if you feel even a single bumpy seam or raised stitch. Try several brands and models; there’s no one right fit for everyone.
If you’re a blister magnet, lace up using the traditional crisscross method until you reach the second to last eyelet then thread each end into the last eyelet on the same side to create loops. Next, crisscross one lace over the other and thread the ends through the opposite loop. Tighten and tie; this helps keep your foot from sliding around.
Wearing the right pair of sports socks is your number one blister control tactic. Without them, your feet are subject to big time friction. Thin with good moisture management and high durability are must-have features for happy feet. (There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, I recommend wearing thicker socks with hiking boots.)
The socks you wear should conform perfectly to your feet; no wrinkles, bunching, or extra folds. I prefer synthetic materials like nylon because they dry quickly and hold their shape. For example, I’m a huge fan of PowerSox. I wear the ones with an anatomical performance fit; as with shoes, there’s a left sock and a right sock to give you a customized fit.
One old marathoner’s trick involves slipping on knee high stockings underneath your socks. The socks slip against the nylon but the nylon conforms to your feet. I admit this is a little odd, but I know some hardcore road warriors who swear by this method. So if you’re really suffering, pride be dammed.
Gooping up the feet before a workout is an icky affair but it's effective. Petroleum jelly works fine, but I think products especially made for blister prevention work better. I personally swear by Lanacane Anti-chaffing gel.
If you’ve got recurring hot spots, try placing some athletic or duct tape over the offending area. You can also look for a bandage such as Blist-O-Ban which has laminated layers of breathable plastic film and a self-inflating bubble you center over the blister. When your shoe rubs against the bandage, the layers slide smoothly against one another rather than your tender skin.
If your blisters balloon up anyway, visit your doctor or try draining them yourself using a sterile razor blade or nail scissors. (Now that I think about it, just go see your doctor!) You can also cut a hole in an old pair of shoes over the corresponding area so your blister has nothing to rub against. This should eliminate painful friction and allow the blister a chance to heal completely. In the meantime, toughen up the area by painting it frequently with a liquid bandage.