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Blisters 101

Blisters are fairly common when walking a long distance. They can be caused by a few situations that can be minimized if you take some precautions.

Getting Blisters

Blisters on the feet are most commonly caused by intense rubbing against an object. Because of friction, the skin experiences trauma. The epidermis and the dermis layers separate and fluids then leak into this gap. The fluid acts as a protection of the layer of skin underneath.

Small blisters are best left alone to heal. Apply some antibiotic on them and cover them with a soft bandage. Moleskins are sometimes used to add comfort by cutting out the size of the blister and applying so you shelter the area around the blister, causing less friction, You may also put a lubricant like petroleum jelly or talcum powder on the part of the shoe that causes blisters in order to reduce friction.

Conventional wisdom is to not puncture blisters and to leave a broken blister alone, not trying to peel off the outer skin since it acts as some protection.

Prevention

Probably the most common reason for developing a blister is due to improper shoe fit. Shoes that are too narrow, short, not ideally designed for walking or even too large can cause blisters. Even if you have a pair of shoes that you have broken in, unless you have walked for a long time in them, there is no guarantee that they will be blister-free. See the article on getting the right shoes for more on what to look for.

Socks can be a subtle culprit too. Generally, there are only two products that are recommended these days, wool and Coolmax, that I have seen. There may be other synthetic materials though. The main function of the sock is to draw away moisture and provide some extra cushion. With wool be careful to pick only the softest Merino wool. A scratchier wool can help cause irritation. Again, this may not be apparent with everyday use, so your old standby wool socks may not be right for a long walk. Also, consider a sock liner – a thin fabric that wicks away moisture to the outer layers.

Lubricants can be applied before putting on your sock. The old standbys are Vasoline or talcum powder, which provide protection against friction whether its shoes or socks that might cause it. Some walkers that have had problems with certain parts of their feet suggest applying a bandage or moleskin before they start to avoid friction. Keeping feet as dry as possible helps too. So, changing socks mid-way is a good way to eliminate built-up moisture.

Treatment

You can usually tell when you are developing a blister by a new warm sensation or irritation developing in a particular spot. At your next rest break you should check your shoe and sock for fit or gathering issues. If you have an extra pair of socks, this might be the time to switch to a clean, dry pair.

Consider applying some lubricant to your foot where the sensitive area is to reduce friction. You can also try applying a bandage to the area after drying well to see if that might stop any friction before it gets to a blister.
Blisters should be kept clean and dried after washing. Just monitor for any new inflammation or infection. Usually the skin begins to heal within a few days. 

Also, ask other walkers or our support team for help if you feel you are developing blisters or have shoe problems. We usually have basic first aid materials and special blister supplies available.

New Blister Technology

There are several new products available for treatment of blisters which you might want to try, these are new to me but worth considering:

Liquid Bandage – this is not your mother’s bandage. Regular cloth or plastic bandages may do the trick for reducing friction but can loosen in a moist environment. Liquid bandages must have been born from reports about people using Crazy Glue to stitch wounds. Apply like nail polish and you have a protective coat that stays on longer and can be painted for any shape.

Blister Bandages –J&J’s Band-Aid now sells a special “Advanced Healing Blister” Band-aid. This provides a larger bandage with a strong adhesive, cushion material and some formula (probably hydrocolloid) to promote better healing. You can also buy a generic pad with similar properties using hydrocolloid which contain particles that absorb the liquid in a wound and create a gel-like covering that keeps the wound moist and protected, an optimum healing environment. Theses bandages can remain on the wound for several days before being changed.

Updated P. Kiczek, 1/22/12