Foot Blister Prevention: What You Can Recommend To Athletes

By Mark A. Caselli, DPM, and Jean Chen-Vitulli, DPM

A Review Of Helpful Lubricants And Drying Agents
When athletes have areas of the feet that are prone to blistering, applying lubricants (like petroleum jelly, bag balm or even dry soap flakes) before they put on socks helps reduce friction. Athletes should reapply large amounts of petroleum jelly every 10 miles during long walks or running events. Instead of petroleum jelly, some athletes prefer applying non-petroleum anti-chafing lubricants, such as BodyGlide (W. Sternoff, LLC) or Runner’s Lube (Mueller Sports Medicine, Inc.), prior to a long distance walk to prevent blisters. These products are waterproof, perspiration-proof, non-greasy, and wash off with soap and water.
Another recommendation is to massage both feet with lanolin every night for a month before a big walking or running event. It’s better than petroleum jelly since it doesn’t create heat when friction occurs. It is also a good barrier for water in case it rains during the event.
Minimizing moisture on the feet by using drying agents is another way to reduce blister formation. In a double-blind study conducted at the U.S. Military Academy, cadets who used the prescription antiperspirant Drysol (Person & Covey, Inc.) for at least three nights before a 21km hike had a 21 percent incidence of foot blisters, as compared to 48 percent for the placebo group. Drying foot powders, such as Zeasorb (Stiefel Laboratories, Inc.), and antiperspirant sprays (that contain aluminum chlorhydrate or aluminum chloride) are inexpensive ways to decrease moisture.

Other Preventive Approaches
Toughening the skin is another method of avoiding blister formation. Conditioning the skin by gradually increasing activity tends to lead to the formation of protective calluses rather than blisters. Applying multiple coats of tincture of benzoin to sensitive areas or soaking feet in strongly brewed tea (tannic acid) are commonly used skin toughening procedures.
Protecting or “shielding” areas of the foot with a high potential for blister formation is an excellent preventive approach. Some of these susceptible areas include bony prominences such as: The dorsum of hammertoes; medial prominence areas of bunions and tailor’s bunions; the posterior heel; and the middle of the arch, especially when the athlete is using orthoses. Products such as Band-Aid Blister Block (Johnson & Johnson, Skillman, N.J.) and Dr. Scholl’s Cushion Blister Treatment (Schering-Plough Healthcare Products) are self-adhesive, silicone-like pads that act as an extra layer of skin to absorb friction. They are available in various sizes. If athletes apply them properly, these pads can stay on the skin for several days, even through showers.
Cut slightly larger than areas of intense friction or sensitive skin, moleskin provides another inexpensive method of preventing blister formation. Liquid adhesives, such as Mastisol (Ferndale Laboratories, Inc.), promote adherence of moleskin to the foot. Alternatives to moleskin are the “liquid” bandages such as New Skin (Medtech Laboratories, Inc.), which dries to form a tough protective covering on the skin. Athletes may also consider using lambswool, commonly used by dancers, between the toes in order to prevent and/or soothe blisters.

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