7 Strategies to Prevent Blisters

Prevent Blisters with the Right Shoes - Socks - Lubricants and More

Blister on Heel
Blister on Heel. Gajus Images / Depositphotos.com

Blisters are one of our biggest complaints as walkers. But are blisters inevitable? Can you make it through a marathon without painful blisters? Can you survive a multi-day walking event with intact skin? Yes, there are ways to toughen your feet and to prevent most blisters. We'll review the top ways to prevent blisters both before and during your walk.

Tip 1: The Right Shoes to Prevent Blisters

A common source of blisters are your shoes themselves.

Everybody has feet of different shapes and sizes, and there is no single shoe will be right for everyone. Getting the right size and shape of shoe can help prevent blisters.

Cause: New Shoes: If you take new shoes out for a long walk, you may get a blister. Any pair of shoes may give you a blister in its first few wearings, before your feet and the shoe have grown accustomed to each other.

  • Solution: Take it slow and only go on short walks with new pairs of shoes, even the if they are same brand and model you have been wearing. Build up your mileage and speed in each pair of shoes.

Cause: Cramped Shoes: With a cramped toe box, toes rub against sides or end of shoes. This can even lead to blackened toenails or losing the toenails after a long walk.

    Cause: Feet Sliding Around in Shoes: If your shoes have a sloppy fit and your feet slide forward and back within the shoe with each step, you are adding extra blister-causing friction. You may also get a black toenail.

    • Solution: You want your feet to have enough room to expand when you walk, but not enough to slide around. Wear a thicker sock to take up some of the extra space. Learn how to lace your shoes to keep your heel in the heel cup with each step rather than sliding forward. If you still seem to have too much space, buy shoes that fit better.

    Cause: Rough Edges in Your Shoes: The seams and the edge of the insole can rub against your foot or toes.

    • Solution: You can change styles of shoes or insoles. Some shoes are designed to be seamless inside. But generally the solution will be to lubricate or cover the area that is getting rubbed.

    Tip 2. Prevent Blisters By Toughening Your Feet

    They don't call a newbie a tenderfoot for nothing! Your soft, pink feet will have fewer problems with blisters if your skin gets a little tougher.

    Calluses are your friends: As your feet get more of a workout, they build up calluses. These are your friends - you want calluses, which act as a natural pad against the friction that forms blisters. Do not give in to beauty and shave off or pumice down the calluses - at least until after the long walk.

    Tannic acid to toughen: Marathoners and long distance walkers may want to toughen the feet with 10% tannic acid or a tea soak.

    Apply the tannic acid to your feet, or soak in strong tea, twice daily for two to three weeks.

    Moisturize Away Heel Cracks: To prevent your calluses drying out too much and developing painful cracks, moisturize your feet after each bath or shower with a good foot cream or hand cream.

    Tip 3. Prevent Blisters By Wearing the Right Socks

    Forget the cotton socks, stick with synthetics. That's what the experts say when it comes to preventing blisters. Cotton retains your foot sweat, which then softens the skin and leaves it more prone to breaking with friction, and blisters form.

    Wick it Away: Synthetic socks made of acrylic, polypropylene, or CoolMax fabric wick moisture away from the foot, keeping it dry. These are available at sports stores.

    Double layers: Double-layer socks may be the answer to preventing blisters. The inner layer should be of a wicking fabric. The two layers work to prevent friction on the foot itself. Some double layer socks, such as WrightSocks, even come with a no-blister guarantee. You can also wear two pairs of socks.

    Padded Socks vs. Thin Socks: From a blister standpoint, experiment with thickness of socks. If your socks are so thick that your toes have no room, you need bigger shoes or thinner socks. When having shoes fitted, bring along the thickness of sock you plan to wear to ensure a correct fit.

    Change Your Socks En Route: Many marathoners recommend changing your socks whenever your feet get wet due to rain, or at the halfway point of a marathon.

    There's the Rub: Check where the sock seams are hitting your toes - is that where your are blistering? Some running socks are specially designed to keep the seams away from the feet. Tube socks are not recommended as your feet are not tube shaped, and they simply won't fit right.

    Socks as an Investment: With some athletic socks running from $7 - $20 a pair, it can be painful to stock up. But good socks can last much longer than the cheap ones and save you money in the long run. I have Thorlo socks that are still in good shape after 10 years of constant wear.

    Tip 4. Prevent Blisters By Lubricating Your Feet

    Friction -- the rubbing motion between foot, sock and shoe -- creates heat and tearing forces, which make the skin prone to blisters. Reduce the friction, reduce the blisters. One way to reduce friction is by lubricating your feet so they slide rather than rub.

    Petroleum Jelly: A Leukemia Society Team in Training coach who recommended slathering your feet thickly with petroleum jelly for long-distance walks and marathons. I did that for the marathons I walked and it seemed to work until mile 18. This is an inexpensive, readily available option -- Vaseline is the name brand. At most marathons they have it available at the rest stops so you can reapply it. The cautions are that it won't easily wash out of your socks, and it makes the dirt cling to your socks. That can mean there is more grit in your shoe to irritate your foot.

    AD Ointment: Thicker than petroleum jelly, yet still available wherever baby diapers are sold, this can also do the job. Again, more is probably better.

    BodyGlide, Sports Slick, Hydropel, Sport Shield: These products can be found at running stores and go on like a stick of deodorant, or come in a handy tube. In my experience, they work well on the feet for distances of 10 miles or less, but above that have failed. It would be a good idea to re-apply them during the walk. But keep these around to use to prevent chafing of other body parts.

    Teflon: Some socks are incorporating Teflon to prevent friction.

    Tip 5. Prevent Blisters By Keeping Your Feet Dry

    Keeping your feet dry starts with wicking socks, but you can also use other strategies.

    Corn Starch and Talcum Powder: First, plain old corn starch (yep, just like you use in cooking) in your socks and shoes can keep your feet dry. Reapply it at least once in a long distance event. Baby powder or talcum powder both smells nice and also acts to keep the feet dry.

    Antiperspirant: A military study showed that using a special heavy-duty antiperspirant on the feet reduced the incidence of blisters. While regular antiperspirant is less concentrated, it might be worth trying.

    But Drink Up: Keep your feet dry, but don't let the rest of you get dehydrated. Keep drinking water for the first hour, then a sports drink with electrolytes (salts) to keep your body fluids in balance. Getting dehydrated can contribute to blisters.

    Next: Two More Strategies to Prevent Blisters

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