Foot Blisters: A Comprehensive Guide
What Are Foot Blisters?
Blisters in general appear as small bubbles of skin, slightly raised from the surface; sometimes they are raised in a much larger way. In either case, blisters are generally filled with a clear fluid. Because of this, they appear to be rather squishy when prodded.
Foot blisters are no different from any other kind of blister in appearance. They can appear on any skin surface on the foot though they are most commonly associated with the heel area. Although blisters may seem to be an inevitable fact of life, they are in fact a health condition which can in some cases become serious, so it is best to understand why and how they form, as well as how to treat them when they occur and prevent their formation in the first place.
What causes Foot Blisters?
The most common cause of blisters is friction. When the surface of the skin repeatedly rubs against an opposing surface such as the inside of a sock or shoe, heat and irritation can build up. Together, these can lead to the formation of foot blisters.
A number of factors can contribute to this unfortunate buildup of friction. Chief among such factors are:
- shoes that are too small
- shoes that are fastened or tied too tightly
- wearing shoes or socks that are wet
- excessive sweating of the feet causing moisture build up in the sock or shoe
- particles of sand, gravel, or other small items inside the shoe
Moisture inside the shoe makes it more likely that blisters will develop. This is because moisture softens the hard outer layer of skin and causes it to rub more awkwardly against hard surfaces.
A less common cause of blisters a pedicure gone wrong. In no case should a pedicurist remove calluses on your feet by using a razor to slice them off or an emery board to abrade them off. Calluses have formed in areas that are likely to blister and their existence protects your feet from having blisters form in those locations. Removing calluses only causes those areas to be vulnerable once again to having blisters form.
The best way to treat calluses is to use moisture lotion so they are less unsightly, but they should always be left in place as a protection against blister formation.
Treatment Options for Foot Blisters
The best treatment for a blister is to simply leave it alone and allow it to heal. The skin itself serves as a protective barrier against infection and other problems, and in the normal course of events the blister will eventually rupture on its own and the fluid inside it will drain out naturally.
The exception to the rule above is if the blister is particularly painful. In this case, you may want to deliberately cause it to rupture so that it can drain and true healing can begin. Be sure to pop the blister with care, however. You do not want to exacerbate the situation and do anything that could lead to the blister becoming infected.
Therefore, you should use a needle and not a pin (or other sharp object) since sewing needles are made of a much higher grade of metal and can be more thoroughly sterilized. In order to prepare the needle, immerse it in boiling water for five to ten minutes. Be sure the water is at a full, rolling boil for at least the minimum length of time. Remove the needle from the boiling water and allow it to cool on a sterile surface; do not touch the sharp tip lest you transfer to it germs from your skin surface.
Use the needle to carefully prick the surface of the blister; do not attempt to cut a tear in the blister – your aim is to create a tiny hole. After you have done this, you should be able to gently press the blister surface in order to squeeze out the fluid that has been trapped inside. You want to leave the surface skin of the blister intact as it is an important part of allowing the blister to heal. Removing it, even accidentally, will leave your foot with an open wound, which can lead to infection and sepsis; these in turn can lead to more serious conditions that will require hospitalization.
After care for a manually pierced blister includes the use of an antiseptic cream such as Polysporin or Neosporin to prevent germs from entering the blister through the tiny hole you have created. To protect the blister surface from tearing loose as it heals, use a product such as moleskin or Band Aid Blister Block. These will cushion the blister and help keep it from rubbing against shoe or sock surfaces while it is in a vulnerable state.
Treatment for Blisters not Yet Fully Formed
In many cases, runners, hikers, and other athletes can tell in advance that a blister is in the process of forming. When a blister is not yet fully formed, there are things that can be done to keep it from progressing to the full blistered state. The following procedures are the most helpful in these situations:
Blisters develop over a period of time and often you can already feel one coming up. Early detection and treatment is the key to preventing full grown Blisters. If you feel a sore place on our foot or irritation, do the following in order:
- Remove your shoes and socks at once. This will help cool off your feet and allow them to get dry if moisture has built up.
- Shake out any sand, gravel, or other particles that have become lodged in the shoes or socks. If possible, use a spare pair, freshly washed and fully dried when it i, Sans-serifs time to resume your physical activity.
- Use moleskin or another anti-blister product to cushion the area around the blister so that further friction and rubbing will not occur. In a pinch a built up series of band aids can be used to serve this function, but specialty products such as moleskin and athletic tape work best.
- Replace your shoes and socks and finish your physical activity.
- Once your activity is over, remove the moleskin or surgical tape and allow your feet to rest for an extended period. Going barefoot to eliminate potential sources of friction during this rest period is recommended.
- Continue to use moleskin for a few days as needed until all danger of blistering has passed.
Prevention of Foot Blisters
Far better than treating blisters after they have appeared is the prospect of preventing them completely. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is eminently true in the case of foot blisters.
The most important factor to prevent the formation of foot blisters is to be certain that your shoes are of the proper size for your feet and for the type of activity you plan to engage in. The average street shoe should be roomy enough to allow a foot to wriggle a bit inside it, but not so roomy that the entire foot can slide around – in particular, shoes should not be so large that the heel will rub rhythmically against the back of the shoe as the wearer walks, going about his daily business.
Shoes designed for running should not usually be purchased in the same size as a street shoe; if they are, the resulting fit will be too tight for proper fit during the vigorous physical activity of running. The ideal running shoe should be sized at least half a size larger than the comparable street shoe. Therefore, a man who normally wears a size 10 shoe should purchase at least a size 10 and a half or possibly even a size 11 when he needs a shoe for running or another vigorous sporting activity. Even if his regular street shoes are of the tennis shoe variety, he should reserve them for casual use and not use them for sports if the goal is to prevent the formation of blisters.
Proper fitting shoe size is important because the feet actually swell up when engaged in running or other vigorous physical activities. The goals is to allow the foot a bit of room to move around; in particular, the toes should not be cramped inside the front of the shoe, known as the toe box.
If you are a runner or plan to run on a regular basis, you should consider buying running shoes from dedicated running shoe stores where an employee will correctly measure your feet and help you pick out the best running shoes. Proper running shoes (especially when fitted to your feet by a professional) will go a long way to preventing foot blisters.
Another useful technique for the prevention of foot blisters during running activities is to purchase and wear socks specifically made for that purpose. The ideal sock for running is not made of cotton, but of synthetic materials such as CoolMax or even Teflon, which have the effect of sucking moisture away from your feet, which helps contribute to a dry environment for your feet. Since moisture and wetness is a contributing factor in the formation of blisters, this is an important sock consideration.
Socks made of synthetic materials are also less likely to bunch up inside the shoe, a common failing of cotton socks. A bunched up sock leads to blisters because it provides an awkward surface the foot is not accustomed to, which can mean an increase in friction between foot and sock surface. In order to minimize the incidence of bunching up even with synthetic socks, it is best to look for socks which have a perfectly smooth surface and in particular, lack any seams.
Some athletes have found that one of the most effective ways to prevent blisters is to wear socks that are made in a two layer configuration. With double layer socks such as these, any build-up of friction will happen between the two layers of the sock itself, therefore sparing your skin from being subjected to the force of friction. A drawback to double layer socks, however, is that some runners find them to greatly increase heat in the foot area, which leads to discomfort. Some double layer socks may also contribute to additional foot sweatiness because of this heat, and since moisture is correlated with the formation of blisters, they may in these cases actually be detrimental to the end goal of preventing blisters.
Recommended Foot Blister Products
There are products designed for use by runners and other athletes to aid them in the prevention of foot blisters. The main products currently in use are:
BodyGlide is lubricating product that comes in a stick much like a solid deodorant. It is applied just as a deodorant would be, but can be used on more than underarms. To prevent chafing, friction, and the resultant blisters, apply BodyGlide to your feet before putting on your shoes and socks. It can also be used on thighs and the bra line area to prevent chafing in those locations, thereby making sporting activities far more comfortable.
Be aware that when it comes to using Vaseline to help your feet slide around, a little goes a long way. Since Vaseline is very slippery, using too much will result in excessive slipperiness, which can actually pose a safety hazard as your feet slide around inside your shoes.
Vaseline is a classic treatment for pretty much everything from blisters and abrasions to simple cuts. Vaseline can be quite effective for treating any type of blisters including foot blisters.
The use of athletic tape or moleskin to prevent blisters is usually limited to runners and other athletes. They know where on their feet blisters are likely to form and they apply the moleskin in those locations in order to prevent the formation of blisters there. This is a rather expensive solution as these products are consumable (used once, then discarded) and applying moleskin or athletic tape for each sporting or practice event will quickly add up in terms of cost.
Gold Bond Powder
Another consumable option for the prevention of foot blisters is a foot powder such as Gold Bond Powder. This product and other powders like it is sprinkled inside the sock before wearing and serves to absorb excess moisture and so help keep the foot dryer than it would be without the powder. An added benefit is that foot powders help control foot odor.
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