We’ve all had blisters on our feet, right?
Whether you’re a keen runner or you’re the kind of trend-setting maverick who regularly wears shoes without socks, the chances are you’ve had a painful blister on your foot at some point.
In a lot of cases, blister prevention can be tricky. However, there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood of your shoes rubbing your feet and there are also certain steps you should take in order to minimise the pain and risk of infection after you develop a blister.
We reached out to Stuart Metcalfe, who is a Consultant Podiatrist at Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull.
Here’s your expert guide to blister prevention and treatment from somebody who definitely knows what they are talking about.
What Causes Blisters?
“Blisters are caused by friction on the skin surface, most typically on the backs of the heels, ball of the foot and other prominences. The layers of the skin separate and the typical fluid-filled blister develops,” Mr Metcalfe told us.
How to Prevent Blisters
Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee that you’ll never develop a blister on your feet.
That said, there are ways to minimise the risk (wearing shoes that fit you properly is a good starting point!)
“It’s important that you have the right shoe for your foot type. Some people need more shock absorption and others more pronation control. Make sure your shoe is right for you and right for your planned running surface,” Mr Metcalfe added.
“It’s also worth remembering to check that those old trainers are fit for purpose. It’s amazing how many running injuries can be traced back to a pair of trainers that should have been binned long ago.
“Wearing socks as a preventative measure may seem odd, but socks can really help prevent common running problems such as blisters. They can also add additional protection over vulnerable areas of the feet.”
How Long Will I Have This Blister For?
It’s difficult to say, as the size of the blister and the general condition of the individual’s feet can dramatically impact how long it takes to heal.
According to the NHS, most blisters will heal naturally after three to seven days.
How to Get Rid of Blisters Fast
Before you reach for that drawing pin, it’s important that you know the best way to get rid of your blister.
Mr Metcalfe shared his main rule of thumb (or toe in this case!):“Small blisters should be left intact and any large blisters need to be drained and dressed.”
Simple enough. But there’s more.
“Unless a blister is very large or infected, DON’T puncture it!
“Apply a plaster over the blister, which will help compress it and disperse the fluid. If you break the skin there is more chance of an infection being introduced.
“If the blister is large, then wipe the skin with antiseptic and make a puncture hole using a sterilised pin unless you are diabetic or have problems with circulation or healing, in which case see an expert. In the unlikely event the fluid in the blister is not clear (straw coloured), then seek medical advice.”
How to Tell if a Blister is Infected
Blisters are usually harmless and will naturally disappear.
However, it’s vital that you don’t ignore an infected blister, as this can lead to more serious secondary problems.
How do you spot an infection?
- If the pain increases, get it checked out
- Look out for green or yellow pus
- If it starts to feel particularly hot, go to see your GP
Why Am I Still Getting Blisters?
As with many ailments, some people are more susceptible to blisters than others. Even if you’ve taken all necessary precautions, they can still appear.
“If you have particularly sweaty feet or are very active, you may be predisposed to blisters, in which case try using astringents/antiperspirants to reduce sweating. Choose socks with natural fibres and designed for your sport,” Mr Metcalfe added.
“If simple measures don’t work, consider seeing an expert on feet. They may be able to prescribe stronger medicines or identify a biomechanical cause for the blisters.”
What About Calluses?
To the untrained eye, it’s easy to mistake a corn or callus for a blister.
So what’s the difference?
“Corns are areas of focussed thickened skin which form over bony prominences such as the tops of bent toes or tips of the toes. Intermittent pressure, shear and friction cause the skin to thicken. Corns are painful because of the nerve endings which grow up underneath the areas of thickened skin,” Mr Metcalfe added.
“Runners should avoid medicated corn plasters which contain mild acids as they can cause damage to surrounding skin.
“If corns or calluses are forming, then an appointment with a podiatrist specialising in sports medicine is advised. The goal is to try and identify any biomechanical risk factors and help prevent or slow the formation of these painful lesions.
“Local treatment to remove the corn/callus can be helpful, together with padding to protect prominent areas. If there is obvious deformity to the toe or foot, then straightening toes can cure the problem. New evidence is beginning to suggest that some corns, such as those on the ball of the foot, may have a viral cause.”
Foot Care Advice for Runners
Most of us know that stretching is important before and after a run, but it’s not just our leg muscles that benefit.
Mr Metcalfe remarked: “After a tough run, it’s essential to warm down and include at least five minutes of stretching. Stretching out your hamstrings and calf muscles also impacts on your feet.”
In the UK, there’s been a sharp increase in the number of people looking for “plantar fasciitis shoes”. Mr Metcalfe explained why this might be:
“Plantar fasciitis is a condition we see a lot in runners, which is no surprise since this band of thick fascia runs across the entire arch of the foot and is subjected to large stresses when running. Gentle stretches by pulling the toes up with the leg out straight is a good way to keep this structure as flexible as possible, especially after a tough run.”
Any Other Tips I Should Follow?
Blisters and corns are among the most common foot complaints, but they’re not the only things you need to look out for.
Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungus and is more pronounced when feet are hot and sweaty (hence why runners are susceptible). While it’s not usually serious, it needs to be dealt with to prevent it spreading.
Mr Metcalfe offered five general foot care tips for you to follow (whether you’re an athlete or not).
- Good foot hygiene
- Application of topical medicines
- Changing shoes and hosiery regularly
- Using medicated sprays in shoes
- Washing insoles/hosiery with biological powders at high temperatures
You’ll find more general foot care advice here.