How You Should Treat a Blister

What to Do When Your Shoes Rub You the Wrong Way

Blister on foot
(c) Kristin Kokkersvold

Blisters created by friction, like the kind you get on your feet or hands when hiking or climbing, can be painful and become infected if they aren't kept clean and covered. They're not major injuries, but they sure can be a pain in the foot.

Let's be clear: blisters can be caused by a lot more than just ill-fitting shoes. Burns, infections, bites and stings, and many other things can cause blisters that look very similar to a simple friction injury.

The giveaway difference is that usually the blisters caused by anything other than friction are accompanied by some redness and surrounding swelling. There are also a couple of telltale areas where friction blisters develop:

  • Heels and balls of the feet
  • Palms of the hand near the base of the fingers

Blisters that develop in other parts of the body without any obvious repetitive friction, are not friction blisters and should be considered as signs of some other condition.

Treatment

Whether or not a simple friction blister needs any treatment or not is still debatable.  Many blisters will heal all by themselves if left alone. If the blister is small, unbroken and not very painful, it is probably best to leave it alone. If the blister is large or painful--especially if the activity isn’t finished, such as if you are in the middle of a hike--follow these steps to drain and dress it.

Here's How

  1. Clean the blister
    Gently clean the blister with soap and water, then wipe the blister and surrounding area with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.
  1. Drain the blister
    Heat a needle over a flame until the tip is glowing red. Let the needle cool without touching anything else. Poke a hole in the base of the blister to allow the fluid inside to drain. Press lightly on the blister to help drain it.
  2. Dress the blister
    Dab a little antibiotic ointment on the drained blister and cover it with a bandage.

    Tips

    1. Don't get burned holding the needle over the flame. Use a pair of pliers, hot pad or cloth to hold it. You don't want to create a burn blister while trying to fix a friction blister.
    2. If you must continue the activity that caused the blister, whether you choose to drain it or not, cut a piece of moleskin like a donut with a hole in the middle. Put the moleskin around the blister. This helps keep pressure off the blister, which should minimize any further injury. If you've drained it, then cover the whole thing with a bandage.

    Sources

    Brennan, F.H. Jr. "Managing blisters in competitive athletes." Current sports medicine reports. Dec 2002.

    Knapik, J.J., et al."Friction blisters. Pathophysiology, prevention and treatment." Sports medicine. Sep 1995.

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