What causes blisters on feet? For hikers, runners and other physically active people who spend a great deal of time on their feet, blisters can be a big concern. Luckily, regardless of how your blisters are caused, blister prevention and treatment is universal.
In this article, we will present sound advice on preventing and treating blisters on the feet. Read on to learn more.
Table of Contents
- Properly fitted shoes or boots are key
- Size matters
- Select carefully
- Get used to your new shoes
- Condition your feet to avoid blisters
- Avoid and deal with the causes of blisters
- Types of blisters & how to treat & prevent them
- Prevention is the best thing for blisters
Properly fitted shoes or boots are key
Before you purchase shoes or boots for your chosen activity, determine the qualities task-appropriate footwear must have. Ask yourself:
- How much support will I need?
- How much protection will I need?
- Do I need waterproofing?
- How much traction is necessary?
- How heavy should this footwear be?
Lack of support, too much friction, dampness, too much or too little weight can all lead to the development of blisters. A properly fitted shoe or boot that provides the right amount of support, protection, traction and weight will help keep your feet blister free.
Be sure to purchase shoes that are the right size or even just slightly large. Shoes that are too small exert constant pressure on your feet, and pressure at any point is likely to cause a blister.
Any footwear you purchase should feel perfectly comfortable when you try it on. If you feel any pressure when you try the shoe on, you can be certain that it will only get worse with the passage of time.
Time your shoe shopping trip so that your feet will be a bit swollen. Go at the end of your workday when you have been on your feet for a number of hours. Shoes that feel comfortable at this time of day will feel comfortable all the time.
Pay close attention to the size of the toe box. You should have plenty of room to move, flex and spread your toes. If your toes are pressed together, you will surely experience blisters on and between toes.
It’s also important to wear the socks you plan to wear to perform your activity. It’s a good idea to buy hiking boots a half size too large to be certain of pressure-free fit when wearing thick, absorbent socks.
Take your time. Try on a variety of brands and styles to find the fit that is perfect for you. It’s a good idea to get shoes that have removable insoles so that you can replace them as needed.
Over the counter or prescribed insoles can be a big help in preventing the development of blisters. Good insoles hold your feet in a proper position to provide good support and reduce movement and friction, which is a major cause of blisters.
Get used to your new shoes
Breaking in your shoes or boots before extended wear is a good blister prevention technique. Start out by wearing your new footwear around your house and yard for short periods of time. If you don’t experience any difficulties, extend the time of wear to short walks and running errands around town.
If you’ve done a good job of purchasing your footwear, you should not experience any problems with rough spots, stiffness or pressure. If you do, you can take steps to correct the problems.
For example, rough spots can be smoothed with a little moleskin or duct tape. In leather shoes, areas that cause pressure can be stretched with a shoe stretcher or shoe tree. Stiff leather can be softened and waterproofed with an application of mink oil.
Condition your feet to avoid blisters
With any activity, it is wise to get into shape gradually to avoid injury. Be sure your feet are in good shape to avoid blisters when standing, walking, hiking or running.
1. General maintenance
- Keep your feet clean and dry.
- Keep toenails properly trimmed and calluses smoothed and moisturised.
- Treat athlete’s foot or toenail fungus promptly with OTC remedies and/or the advice of your doctor.
- Wear clean, dry socks and allow your feet exposure to the open air for several hours every day.
2. Toughen the soles of your feet
If you plan on hiking or running long distance, you may wish to use Tincture of Benzoin to toughen up your soles.
Benzoin is a natural balsamic tree resin. It is aromatic and antiseptic. It also has adhesive properties, so it can be applied to a blister as treatment and as a way of helping bandaging stay in place.
You can purchase it as a liquid, a spray or pre-measured into bandaging or cotton swabs. It toughens your skin by providing a protective layer.
This product can be used on any blister-prone area of your foot to toughen up the skin. It is especially good to use between toes to prevent blistering.
When you apply it, be sure to let it dry thoroughly (for a minimum of three minutes) before putting on socks and shoes. If you apply it between your toes, spread the toes for exposure to air until the product is completely dry.
3. Exercise your feet and acclimate them
If you are a “tenderfoot” get your feet in shape for hiking and running challenges by going barefoot around your house and yard on a regular basis.
Naturally, you will want to take care to avoid stepping on sharp objects or being stung by insects, but careful, mindful barefoot walking or running for an hour or two daily can help strengthen your feet and toughen up the skin so that you will be less likely to experience blisters on long hikes or runs.
4. Wear sandals
Expose your feet to air by wearing well-fitted sandals. Allowing your skin to air and get a little sun will help prevent athlete’s foot.
To avoid dry skin and hard calluses, be sure to use a good, nourishing foot cream or coconut oil overnight.
You want to hit a happy medium with calluses. You don’t want hard, inflexible calluses that will crack and even bleed. You do want a slight thickening of the skin that will protect vulnerable areas of the soles of your feet.
For this reason, you should both toughen with Tincture of Benzoin and keep it pliable with a nourishing, moisturising substance.
6. Choose good socks and wear them correctly
For long hikes and runs, propylene sock liners will reduce friction and wick moisture away from your feet. Wear thick, well-fitted, natural fiber socks over these liners to cushion your feet and protect them from impact.
Socks should be smoothed to avoid wrinkles. Don’t pull them on too tightly as this will constrict your toes and can cause blisters. Make certain your shoes or boots are laced to the correct tension to avoid both friction and pressure.
Toe socks that keep your toes separate can really help prevent toe blisters. Choose light, thin toe socks to wear as a liner under your thicker, cushioning socks.
7. Give your feet a break
When you go on a long hike or run, take off your socks and shoes when you take a break. Let your feet rest and air out. Soak and massage your feet if needed. Apply moisturizing and/or anti-fungal cream if needed. This is also a good idea if you are on your feet for long hours at work. If you can change your shoes from one comfortable pair to another during the day, do so.
8. Use foot powder correctly
Medicated foot powder is very helpful for keeping feet dry, preventing the development of fungus and reducing friction and chafing if you use the right amount. Apply foot powder lightly and then brush it off with a dry cloth. You should just have a fine film over your entire foot. Excessive amounts absorb moisture and act as grit in your sock. This can cause even more tendency to blister.
As an alternative to foot powder, you might want to use products such as:
- Avon silicone glove
These products are all designed to reduce friction. On long hikes or runs these products should be reapplied every four to six hours.
Avoid and deal with the causes of blisters
Protect your feet from water
Moisture softens and weakens skin. If you will be hiking or running in wet weather, take steps to keep your feet dry. Wet socks and shoes can cause chafing and friction that lead to blisters. Treat leather footwear with mink oil to keep water out.
Keep debris out of your shoes or boots
Foreign objects such as pebbles, grit, dirt and leaves cause friction. Don’t forge ahead with a pebble, sand or leaves in your footwear. This small irritation can definitely lead to blisters. As soon as you feel a foreign object in your shoe, stop and remove it.
On long hikes, gaiters will help keep dirt and debris out of your boots. They also help keep snow out so your feet stay dry.
Cover developing blisters
Friction causes heat. If you feel a hot, painful spot on your foot, it is an indication that a blister may be forming. Keep some moleskin, athletic tape or other protective material in your pocket or pack to cover this hot-spot right away. Doing so can stop the development of a blister.
Keep a few supplies on hand to deal with blisters. These include moleskin, athletic tape, tincture of Benzoin, band-aids, gauze and other basic first aid supplies.
How to use moleskin
Moleskin is a very useful material that can help pad developing blisters or protect blistered areas after the fact. It is a soft, fabric material backed with adhesive. You can buy it pre-cut into various useful shapes, or you can buy it in inexpensive sheets that you can custom cut to suit your needs. Be sure to keep a sheet or two in your first aid kit.
Put duct tape on it!
Another good thing to have in your hiking or running first aid kit is duct tape. You can put it over areas of your foot that may be prone to blistering as a way of preventing problems.
For example, if you have wide feet but narrow heels, you may tend to get blisters on your heels no matter what you do. Placing a bit of duct tape over your heels before a long hike or run can go far toward preventing this problem. It can also be placed over band-aids to keep them in place.
Athletic tape is versatile & breathable
You can use athletic tape in much the same way as duct tape. It has the advantage of being breathable, and the glue is easier to get off your skin than the glue that is used on duct tape. Additionally, if you have sensitive skin, the glue on athletic tape is less likely to cause you problems.
Tips about tape
Don’t apply tape directly to a blister. Always put a piece of gauze, a Band-Aid or even the non-sticky side of another piece of tape directly against blisters.
Other tape products that can be helpful include:
- Tape Relief is actually a lotion that dries to provide a barrier.
- Leukotape is a specialised, padded and moisturised sports tape that is designed to prevent and protect blisters.
Types of blisters & how to treat & prevent them
Water blisters on the feet manifest as a blister that is full of liquid. This can be very painful because the swelling causes even more pressure.
You can treat this problem by lancing the water blister with a sterilised needle. Disinfect the area with rubbing alcohol, lance and allow the liquid to drain (this should prevent any blister infection).
Apply antibiotic ointment or tincture of benzoin and cover the entire area with a clean, sterile bandage. You may need to cover this with tape to keep it in place if you are in the middle of a hike or run.
While there is some controversy about lancing water blisters, the thinking behind doing so is that it is better to clean it, lance it, treat it and cover it than to have it burst unexpectedly in the unsanitary environment of your boot or shoe.
While you could just cover a water blister without lancing it, this is bound to be more uncomfortable and is likely to interfere with your ability to continue hiking or running. Naturally, after the fact, you must provide proper follow-up care for good healing.
For a torn water blister, you should simply disinfect the area, apply antibiotic ointment or tincture of benzoin and bandage as described above. Don’t expose sensitive skin by trimming away the torn top layer of skin.
Let the area heal for a couple of days. As the top skin dries, you can remove it a bit at a time to expose the blistered area to air for better healing. This will help the injured area dry and harden. Always use sterile implements and clean the area thoroughly.
Blisters on and between toes
If you have a toe that tends to rub no matter what, you can tape it in advance of a walk or run. Use athletic tape to tape from the base of the top of the toe, over the nail and under the toe to the base of the bottom.
Cut a second strip of tape to wrap around the toe to hold this in place. This may take some fancy cutting to create strips that are narrow enough and of the right length, but once you’ve done it a time or two, it becomes second nature.
If you already have a toe blister, disinfect it, treat it and cover it with a small bandage followed by this taping method. It will hold the bandage in place and prevent further rubbing.
Blisters on the ball of the foot
To create a preventative barrier, you’ll need two strips of athletic tape. One should be long enough to run from the base of your middle toe to the outer edge of the sole of your foot. The other should be long enough to run from the base of your middle toe to the inner edge of the sole of your foot.
The strips should overlap at the base of the center toe and run along the bases of all the toes to the sides of your feet. The strips in place should look l like an open “V” shape that covers the ball of the foot just behind the toes.
If you need it to extend further, add another pair of tape strips parallel to, and slightly overlapping, the first. The strips should be long enough to extend up the sides of your foot a little bit so as to stay in place.
You can add layers of tape and/or moleskin to provide more padding, especially at the precise part of the ball of your foot where blisters tend to develop.
Cover this padding with another strip of athletic tape. This method is a good way to put padding securely in place to prevent ball of foot pain in general.
To prevent running blisters be sure to wear high quality, properly fitted running shoes. Wear clean, dry socks every day and make certain to change out your insoles whenever they become worn. Examine your running shoes frequently and replace them when they start to show signs of wear.
Having properly fitted, supportive running shoes in good condition will go a long way toward preventing running blisters.
If you are mindful of your feet, you should not develop deep, serious blisters. If you do develop a blister that is not just apparent on the surface of your skin, don’t try to lance it yourself. Just protect it with moleskin cut in a donut shape. This will help relieve pressure. See your doctor or podiatrist for proper treatment.
Prevention is the best thing for blisters
The very best way to deal with a blister is to never get one in the first place. When you take your time to purchase proper footwear and care for it carefully, you can avoid most blisters. Good foot care and hygiene are also essential in blister prevention.
Be sure to stock your hiking or running first aid kit well to deal promptly with any blisters on feet you may develop. Follow the advice presented here to prevent and deal with blisters on the feet effectively.