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Combating Friction Blisters
Friction blisters remain the most common foot injury among athletes and non-athletes alike. Ironically, they also seem to be the least understood. A blister is formed by friction causing the top two layers of skin to rub together. The layers separate, and the space between fills with fluid—on the outside, it looks like a bubble. There are a lot of myths surrounding the prevention of blisters passed between doctors, coaches, trainers, and athletes, from dusting the foot with baby powder to stuffing a wad of lamb’s wool into your shoe. However, these tactics may not be as helpful as we’ve been lead to believe.
Protective cushioning agents such as moleskin, lamb’s wool, or specialized gel inserts can help minimize the friction needed to create a blister. However, these often wear out over time and could be rendered ineffective by a lot of vigorous activity. Athletic and medical tape seem to have the same problem. Technically, these methods do work, but if you’re going to be active for a long period of time, they may not be the best choice.
Lubricating agents are extremely popular, but they should only be used for shorter bursts of activity. Studies have shown that lubricants such as petroleum jelly will initially reduce friction, but over time will get absorbed by the skin and can actually increase the chance of blisters by up to 30%.
The best way to prevent blisters is by investing in proper footwear. The fit of your shoe is only part of the equation—finding the perfect fit can help you combat both friction blisters, muscle aches, foot injuries, and leg and back injuries. Your socks are just as important. Cotton socks are a big no-no as they absorb sweat, and due to the increased moisture, wind up causing blisters. Nylon socks or socks made from wicking fabrics are the best solutions. You can also double up on socks if one pair just doesn’t seem to be cutting it (just make sure you take this into consideration when fitting shoes!).
If you do wind up with a blister, even after all the preventive measures you’ve taken, remember not to pop the top! This can increase your chance of infection. Instead, take a sterilized needle and poke it into the side in several spots. Be sure to rub on some antibiotic ointment when you’re done and cover the blister with gauze or a band-aid to protect it.
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