Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blister-ing Heat

Here's a good article about blisters from The Washington Post that I read just now. I was going to put a picture of a foot with a blister, but really, it was just too grody. Read this so that you can hopefully avoid such nastiness!

Blisters: How runners can avoid or, if necessary, treat blisters
By Vicky Hallett
Thursday, July 8, 2010

This time of year, the heat in Washington is blistering. Literally.

Because high temperatures and oppressive humidity make you sweat so much more, your feet are likely to get wet when you're walking, jogging or hiking. That moisture isn't just uncomfortable; it's also the source of friction. "That's why it's so hard to take off wet clothes," explains Mary Mundrane-Zweiacher, an athletic trainer from Dover, Del.

There's the rub that can result in blisters. According to an article in the June issue of Podiatry Today, the uncomfortable bumps are the most common sports-related foot ailment. They usually fall in the boo-boo category: Although you whine about them, you're probably not going to seek medical attention.

Even if you are able to use an afflicted foot, a blister can throw off your gait. "You're going to try to avoid pain, so you're going to try to run without putting pressure on that spot," Mundrane-Zweiacher says. Landing differently can mess up your body's natural shock absorption system, creating a domino effect of problems up your leg.

That's why Stephen Pribut, a Washington podiatrist specializing in sports medicine, advises you take it easy a day or two after a nasty blister. A short break is unlikely to destroy your training regimen, and you won't risk having to cool it for a much longer time.

The worst-case scenario, of course, is that your blister gets infected and you don't do anything about it. "Then your foot could get gangrene and fall off," Pribut says. That fate is fairly unlikely, since you'd be in enough pain by then to visit a doctor and get a prescription for oral antibiotics.

But doesn't not getting a blister sound like a preferable course of action? Here's how to keep them at bay.


Start by checking your gear. Everyone has probably experienced new-shoe woes at some point: They're stiffer and more likely to rub you the wrong way. Specialty running stores try to ensure you have a proper fit, which will minimize these problems. But even in the perfect pair, you should avoid going too far in your first few runs, says Chris Farley, owner and general manager of Pacers, a local chain.

Sock choice is key as well. "Wearing socks made of cotton with new shoes is a recipe for blisters," Pribut says. Or as Farley puts it: "Cotton is the enemy." Instead of cotton, which captures water and compresses unevenly, go with a wicking fabric such as Coolmax or Smartwool, which makes for a less bumpy ride.

And don't consider going without socks. Farley, an avid racer who has twice cracked the top 10 of the Marine Corps Marathon, can tell you plenty of bloody horror stories.

Trusted, tested footwear can still act up on seriously swampy days, so for those runs, Farley takes extra precautions. His feet get a liberal application of Body Glide anti-chafe balm, and he uses an anti-blister powder to keep his shoes dry. He also recommends toting a spare pair of socks so you can change.

Mundrane-Zweiacher's favorite way to avoid blisters is by monitoring her foot temperature. If she feels excessive heat building up in her shoes, that's a sign to stop. Even though she's a regular runner, the method has kept her blissfully blister-free for years.


Most active people are bound to experience the agony of the feet, so it helps to know how to treat the condition correctly. Ideally, that means doing nothing.

Blisters are basically tears between layers of skin that fill with a clear fluid. As long as they're intact, they're not infected. That can change if you get a hankering to pop the blister or stab something into it. And ripping off the top layer of skin, which might seem like the next logical step, is just asking for trouble. "It's acting like a raincoat," Pribut says. Once it's gone, you're much more susceptible to infection. Plus, it'll hurt like crazy.

A better plan is to ice the area, which can reduce the swelling, Mundrane-Zweiacher says. Then give the blister relief by surrounding it in a doughnut-shaped pad or moleskin.

Draining the blister is a last resort that's best performed by a pro. But if you feel you must do it on your own, don't rely on just anything lying around the house. Sterilizing with alcohol or a flame isn't particularly effective, Pribut warns, so your best bet is to get a needle from the drugstore that's sealed in packaging. Try to pierce just the top layer of skin. Going any farther will be painful and possibly cause other damage.

Then keep it clean, put a Second Skin or Duoderm bandage on it, watch for signs of infection (yellow fluid is bad) and hope for the end of summer.

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