Aside from an exercise injury, like a muscle tear or shin splints, there are few things worse than painful running blisters. These guys often show up when the skin is damaged by friction, heat, cold, or chemical exposure, according to Mark Jenkins, a celebrity trainer who has worked with the likes of Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, and Brandy. “Fluid collects between the epidermis—the upper layer of the skin—and the layers below, and cushions the tissue underneath, protecting it from further damage and allowing it to heal,” he explains. “The culprit can be anything from new, or poorly fitting, running shoes to wet feet caused by non-absorbent socks.” The good news is that there are plenty of preventative and treatment solutions that’ll have you back on track in no time. Here, experts share how they heal running blisters.
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Release the fluids.
“A blister is actually nature’s bandage, protecting the raw tender skin that lies underneath,” explains Jacqueline Sutera, D.P.M., a podiatrist in New York City and spokesperson for Vionic Innovation Lab. “Remove the roof of a blister, and you’ll be exposing that skin to fungus and bacteria. [This] can lead to a potentially serious infection. The blister will likely break in a few days, resulting in the fluid inside draining on its own. [However,] you can speed up the process by releasing it with a pin or needle.”
To do this, you’ll first want to wipe down the safety pin or needle with rubbing alcohol or betadine, a topical antiseptic that you can buy in any drugstore, according to Dr. Sutera. Next, gently pierce the top of the blister with a single pinprick, keeping the skin intact. “Often, there’s so much pressure built up inside the blister, that the fluid will drain out on its own. But if that doesn’t happen, press the blister—again, very gently,” she adds.
Apply antibiotic ointment.
Once the blister is flat, Dr. Sutera recommends applying a dab of triple antibiotic ointment or cream and covering the blister with a band-aid. “Change the band-aid every day for the next three to five days, until the blister has healed,” she says. “If the areas gets red and swollen and you see puss, those are signs of infection. So call your doctor for advice on what to do next.”
In addition to applying antibiotic ointment or cream, Jenkins recommends placing warm green tea bags on the blister to help reduce inflammation. “Green tea has natural antibacterial properties and can ease the irritation that comes along with painful blisters,” he adds. “You could also pop open a capsule of vitamin E and spread [the oil] across [the] blister to promote healing.”
Let it breathe.
Many experts agree that a blister will heal quicker if it is left uncovered in a clean environment. Jenkins recommends removing bandages whenever you’re at home for long periods of time. This gives it a chance to breathe and dry up. “To protect it from infection, continually apply a thin layer of antibacterial ointment to promote healing,” he adds.
Prevent blisters in the first place.
Luckily, the list of things that you can to do prevent running blisters from forming is quite long. The first thing you’ll want to do is to make sure that you are running in properly fitted shoes. “Make a visit to your local running store. Have a professional assist in you in finding the right shoe and fit for your foot,” says Meghan Kennihan, an Illinois-based personal trainer and running coach. Dr. Sutera recommends choosing natural fabrics over hard or stiff synthetics. Also, check straps for nicks or other imperfections that might cause abrasions. “Shoes that are too big create too much room for the foot to move around, causing friction. While shoes that are too small cause pressure-point blisters,” she adds.
While you’re there, Kennihan suggests buying run-specific socks, like Injinji or Balega. “They have moisture wicking properties that will help keep your feet dry. And [they] are shaped so that the sock doesn’t bunch up or rub your foot awkwardly.”
Lastly, Dr. Sutera adds that slicking on a thin layer of anti-blister balm, like Band-Aid Friction Block Stick or Vaseline, onto your heels and toes. This can also help prevent your favorite shoes from rubbing you the wrong way. There are also moleskin and padding products that you can purchase to put over delicate and blister-prone areas.
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