Blister Prevention 101: How To Prevent Foot Blisters
Blister prevention strategies hone in on the causative factors discussed here, plus a couple of other shear-minimisation strategies. Let’s go through them one by one.
Blister Prevention Strategies
1. Friction Levels
When you reduce friction, most people think you're trying to stop rubbing. In reality, you're trying to make things more slippery. This slippery surface (either on your skin, between sock layers or on your shoe) will reduce the skin from stretching too much. Try it. Put some Vaseline on the back of your handIdeally, the aim is to reduce friction just where the blister-susceptible area is, not all over the foot. Remember the mechanical efficiencies of gait – we still need high-ish friction levels to maintain traction for the foot in the shoe. Examples include:
- Moisture-wicking socks
- Changing socks when they’re wet
- Allowing the feet to air-dry
- Double-sock systems
- Shoe patches
- Low friction tapes
There is a lot of pressure on all parts of our feet from weightbearing, shoe contact pressure and from toes sitting so close together so it’s easy to see why blisters are so common on the feet, especially when running, jumping and walking over difficult terrains. Examples include:
- Cushioned insoles
- Gel toe covers
- Donut pads
- Well-fitting footwear
- Footwear modifications
- Orthotics and custom made insoles
- Thicker socks
3. Bone Movement
If you can reduce the amount the bones move relative to the skin surface, you’ll be reducing the magnitude of skin shear distortions. Examples include:
4. Shear absorption
If you can use materials that undergo shear within their layers, there will be less shear required within the soft tissues of the foot. Examples include:
5. Spreading shear load
Peak shear occurs in very localised areas. It’s likely that if you can spread that shear load over a larger area, peak shear will be reduced per unit area. I believe this is how tapes work because it’s unlikely they work by any other mechanism (for example, they are unlikely to be made from low friction materials – read here for more about what we know about taping and what we don’t know).
6. Skin Resilience
Research has demonstrated that we can make our skin more resilient to shear distortions and therefore more resistant to blister formation by subjecting our skin to these forces. Examples include:
14 POPULAR FOOT BLISTER PREVENTION STRATEGIES
—— FOOTWEAR ——
While there are lacing techniques that can hold your foot in your shoe, good shoe fit is a must. If you have a wide feet, a bunion, hammertoes or bony lump at the back of your heel and perfect shoe fit is impossible, at least get as close as possible to perfect and work from there. Even with significant foot deformities, it is possible to prevent blisters. You just need to apply the right strategy to the right location. This program will help you identify the right strategy, even if you’re very blister prone.
Moisture-wicking socks are highly advised if your feet are very sweaty, as one of the first line strategies to implement before honing in on your exact blister location if they prove to be insufficient.
Double socks in all their forms are often used by hikers for blister prevention.
Cushioning gel toe protectors are great at absorbing blister-causing forces; and replacing worn and flattened insoles with good quality cushioning material can make a big difference for ball of the foot blisters.
Orthotics are great for certain blisters, for example, blisters under the big toe.
Engo patches are one of the best ways I’ve found to reduce friction levels for days, weeks and months in one application. They’ll work great for heel, arch and ball of the foot blisters.
—— SKIN ——
The skin adapts to blister-causing forces over time. That’s why training or wearing your shoes in gradually is so important. It’s also why people get blisters with new shoes – certain parts of their skin are not used to the pressure.
Antiperspirants actually don’t work very well, unless you only need a little bit of preventive impact.
Most powders work by absorbing moisture to reduce friction levels. One in particular actually repels moisture but still reduces friction significantly.
Astringents like alcohol wipes and cold black tea soaks tighten the skin and dry it out, but probably only in the short term.
Lubricants like Vaseline are greasy and make things very slippery ie: they reduce friction levels. They work better for toe blister prevention than other parts of the foot.
Tapes and dressings form a protective layer and prevent the skin from stretching quite so much.
—— ACTIVITY ——
Changing your running gait can reduce blister-causing forces.
Your training program should help to gradually toughen the skin a little and highlight blister-susceptible areas of your foot that will require preemptive action.