How to beat blisters and keep running

Blisters are a common problem for runners of all levels. They can be caused by friction, moisture, and poor-fitting shoes. While blisters can be painful, there are a few things you can do to prevent and treat them.

In this post, I will discuss the causes of blisters, how to prevent them, and what to do if you get a blister. I will also provide some advice on how to choose the right running shoes and socks.

Preventing blisters

The best way to prevent blisters is to take steps to avoid what causes them. By following these tips, you can help to keep your feet healthy and blister-free.

Wear shoes that fit

Shoes that are either too big or too small can cause blisters, so make sure yours fit properly. There should be a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe, and you should also be able to wiggle your toes without the shoe moving around on your foot.

You should also wear the same type of socks that you will be running in while trying them on. And speaking of socks…

Wear socks that wick away moisture

If, for some strange reason, you are wearing cotton socks, then bin them immediately. Cotton socks absorb moisture, which can lead to blisters.

Person wearing Injinji socks to help prevent blisters while running
Toe socks wrap each toe in moisture-wicking fabric

Choose socks made from synthetic materials that wick away moisture. You may want to consider toe socks like the ones by Injinji, which eliminate skin-on-skin friction between toes.

Apply lubricant before running

Applying a lubricant to your feet will help protect your skin from friction, but avoid using Vaseline. While it is an old favourite, it quickly loses its effectiveness as it dilutes through heat and sweat. Vaseline is also greasy and can attract grit and other particles that can cause irritation and blisters.

I use Bodyglide, which comes in a glide-on applicator similar to a deodorant stick. It is also waterproof and non-sticky, so it does not form a horrible layer within your socks.

If you are likely to be running for several hours in wet conditions, then lather your feet in Gerwhol. It helps to strengthen the skin and protects it from friction. It also keeps feet moisturised, which can stop blisters from forming in the first place.

Tape areas that are prone to blisters

Taping your feet is a great way to fend off blisters as it creates a barrier between your skin and your shoes.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when taping your feet. Firstly, use decent tape. There are a variety of tapes available, and some are better suited for preventing blisters than others. Kinesiology tape is a good choice as it moulds well to the contours of the foot, leaving no creases.

And secondly, make sure that you are applying the tape correctly. The tape should be applied snugly, but not too tightly. It is also best applied to clean, dry skin, and preferably an hour before being exposed to any moisture.

Treating blisters

If you do get a blister, there are a few things you can do to treat it.

If you get a blister, try not to pop it

While blisters can be painful, it is generally best not to pop them as doing so can expose the underlying skin to bacteria. This can lead to infection, which can be painful and slow down the healing process.

Most blisters heal within a few days and don’t require medical attention

So if you get a blister, leave it alone and cover it with a cushioned dressing to protect it from further friction.

If your blister bursts

If the blister breaks on its own, clean the area as soon as possible, either with soap and water, or alcohol wipes. Then cover the area to protect it from becoming infected.

You should replace any dressings and bandages regularly, unless you use something like Compeed plasters, which can stay in place for several days.

When to drain your blister

Foot expert John Vonhof makes the following case for popping a blister in his book Fixing Your Feet:

It’s generally best to lance and drain a blister before it enlarges and ruptures, especially if you will be continuing to run or hike.

John Vonhof

I consider this to be an absolute last resort. If finishing an important race comes down to popping a blister or not, then the decision has already been made.

There are many articles and videos online showing you how to do it, with the needle method proving most popular.

It is important, however, to clean the area before you begin. It is unlikely you will have access to soap and water mid-race, so I would endeavour to find an alcohol wipe. Hopefully an aid station will have a first aid kit with plenty to hand.

You should also use a sterilised pin or needle. One way to do this is with a flame by heating a match, but try and avoid getting soot on the tip. I have seen runners use the safety pins that were holding their race numbers to their tops. While I admire their ingenuity, this is a big no-no!

It goes without saying that you should see a doctor if you have any concerns about your feet. They can help you identify any underlying problems that may be contributing to blisters, but don’t let them stop you from running altogether.

Picture of Dan Cross

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