Race Walking > Training
How to prevent them
Blisters are one of the most common injuries whether running or walking and especially in ultra races.
The Basics: What are blisters?
Blisters are basically pockets of skin filled with fluid under a layer of skin. They form when the layers of the skin (dermis and epidermis) separate and fluid flows into the gap, causing pressure and swelling.
You can also get a blood blister if blood flows into the gap between the layers of skin.
So what causes them?
Blisters are caused by a combination of friction and moisture around the feet. That’s why they’re a problem for walkers – your shoes rub against your feet as you walk and sweating keeps the area moist.
A few tips to help avoid blisters:
- Good quality footwear is a must. Get expert advice from a running shop about what’s right for you. Avoid shoes which press against the tops or sides of your toes, and shoes with a higher ankle counter and/or,a higher heal counter.
- Cramped Shoes - beware of a cramped toe box: your toes will rub against sides or end of shoes. This can even lead to blackened toenails or losing the toenails after a long walk.
Solution: Your trainers should have a finger's width of length between the end of your toe and the end of your shoes to allow your feet to expand while walking. Select shoes of the proper width for your foot so that toes have enough room. Some brands offer a wide fitting - so do try these out.
- Sounds obvious - but don’t wear new shoes for a long distance training session or race – so put on a comfortable, worn-in pair (but worn-out!) instead. Any shoe can give you a blister in its first few wearings before your feet have grown accustomed to them. Solution: Take it slow and only go on short walkingtraining sessions with new pairs of shoes, even the if they are same brand and model you have been wearing. Build up your mileage and speed in each pair of shoes.
- "Proper" sports socks ie moisture-wicking socks instead of cotton ones are designed to reduce any moisture/sweat are another must. Just because socks have a sports label, it doesn’t mean they’re always suitable for a 100 mile race. Cotton socks tend to absorb moisture and then the fabric dries hard, increasing the risk of blisters. Again - see what's in your local running shop and ask advice.
- Try to keep your feet dry while you’re out training. If it’s easy to avoid a puddle or wet grass then do so (ditto in a race) . It's not good to start a 100 miles race with exisiting blisters or ones that are "on the mend". Check the skin on your feet before a race and take preventative measures.
- Apply a drying agent (for example methylated spirit) to areas of your feet that are prone to blistering, but avoid getting any onto existing blisters - this can be painful. Sometimes talc may help to keep your feet dry.
- Think about taping parts of your feet/toes which are prone to blistering or stick a bit of Compeed or similar dressing on areas which have blistered in previous races or training. Use zinc oxide tape - even over plasters/ dressing which should help keep them in place.
To pop or not to pop?
The size and location of a blister determines whether you should pop it or not. The best medical advice (NHS) is always to keep blisters intact because whilst they’re closed, they are unlikely to get infected ie. the fluid-filled blister keeps the underlying skin clean, which prevents infection and promotes healing. However, if a blister is in a prominent place where it’s put under pressure or rubbed against, popping it is often the best option - especially when you still have 40 or 50 or more miles to go! Popping a blister when you are in a 100 miles race will certainly provide relief - but go carefully....
- Popping a blister: lance the side of it with a clean needle and gentle squeeze to drain the fluid. Do not remove the skin over a broken blister as the new skin underneath needs this protective cover. So, smooth down the the skin flap that remains. But make sure that all the fluid has drained before covering it.
- Put an antiseptic dressing over the blister, and change it regularly. Make sure the dressing fits well and doesn’t move around when you’re wearing shoes.
What to do when a blister has already popped?
A very brief but painful affair!
But do stop and sort it out - especially if you have a lots of miles to cover. Some medical advice says don't use iodine - but many medics in races do! It is best practice to clean the area and apply dresssing (as above) having made sure that the blister has properly drained first before dressing it.
Whether a blister has burst naturally or you’ve deliberately popped it, follow the same advice of applying an antiseptic dressing and changing it regularly.