Friction Blisters

Man's heel with blister and very dry skin.
Skin Problems Image Gallery Friction blisters often occur after exercise. See more pictures of skin problems.
© Hjerpe

Friction blisters are painful. Sure, those new boots looked great on the shelf and even better on your feet. But until you break them in, you'll likely be in a lot of pain -- especially if you bought the boots a size too small. Ill-fitting footwear is the most common cause of friction blisters. However, they can also be caused by excessive moisture. That's why friction blisters are so prevalent in sports and the military. Athletes and soldiers are constantly moving and sweating, creating the perfect conditions to develop a blister.

Though they do hurt, the formation of a blister is actually your body's way of protecting you. A friction blister forms as your skin rubs against material. Skin becomes irritated and red, and the layers of the skin begin to separate. Your body, in an effort to reduce the offending friction, produces fluid that fills the area between the layers of your now red, sore skin and a friction blister is born [source: Schwartz].


We've all had a friction blister at some point or another in our lives, and chances are we'll have a few more. So the best thing we can do is learn how to prevent them. It can be as easy as changing your socks more frequently. Unfortunately, you can do everything in your power to prevent a blister and still get one, so you should also know how to treat them.

Keep reading to find out all the different ways you can help prevent and treat friction blisters.


Preventing Friction Blisters

It doesn't take much to prevent blisters. It's really all about your shoes, socks and moisture -- though blisters aren't relegated just to feet. Anyone whose worn gloves swing a bat over and over again can attest to the formation of friction blisters on their hands. So when it comes to sports - or even just day-to-day life -- how do you prevent blisters?

John Wooden is considered by many to be one of the greatest coaches of all time. He coached the UCLA men's basketball team from 1948 to 1975, and during that time they won 10 national championships. The secret to his success was the way he made his players put their socks on. OK -- that's not the entire secret -- but it did greatly reduce the number of blisters that his players had to endure. He would teach players to smooth out all the wrinkles in their socks, especially around the toes and heel where blisters commonly form. He also stressed the importance of wearing the right size shoe [source: ESPN]. We can all learn a thing or two from John Wooden. A couple extra minutes with your shoes and socks in the morning could save you from a lot of painful blisters.


You should also keep these helpful tips in mind. First, if your blisters are a result of ill-fitting shoes, discontinue use and buy shoes that fit properly. To ensure a proper fit, wear the same type of socks or hose you would normally wear with the shoe, try on both shoes and check that you can wiggle your toes. Also, try to shoe-shop in the afternoon, the time of day when feet tend to swell. Keep your feet dry, and if heavy sweating is eminent, avoid cotton socks, which trap moisture. If your blisters tend to form in places other than your feet, like your hands, be sure to wear gloves when you're doing something repetitive, like raking a yard or lifting weights [sources: WebMD, Mayo Clinic].

So what do you do if you've failed to prevent a friction blister? Read on to learn about treating these stubborn skin formations.


Treating Friction Blisters

Even if you go out of your way to prevent friction blisters, you'll probably end up getting a few in your lifetime. Sometimes you don't realize your shoes are rubbing you the wrong way until you can't do anything about it. Other times you might not be able to change your damp socks. It happens to the best of us.

If you get a blister despite your best efforts, make sure it doesn't become infected. Look for signs that the blister has become infected, including red, raw pus-filled blisters or increasing degrees of pain [source: Mayo Clinic].


If the skin of the blister hasn't broken and seems to be getting better, don't try to puncture and drain it; your skin acts as its own antibacterial barrier. Leave a closed blister uncovered when possible; otherwise, cover it with a loose bandage or use a moleskin pad [source: WebMD].

If the blister is large and painful, draining it can relieve pressure and can safely be done at home. Start by sterilizing your skin and a needle with rubbing alcohol, and then insert the needle at the edge of the blister. Once punctured, apply antibiotic ointment and then covered loosely with gauze, changing the dressing daily to keep it dry. If you are a diabetic or have circulation problems, leave all draining of blisters to your doctor to avoid a serious infection [source: WebMD].

Blisters are a part of life and like anything, the more you know the more proactive you can be. Check out the links on the next page to find out a lot more information on friction blisters.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Cortese Jr., Thomas A. PhD, Tommy B Griffin Maj MC, Laurence L Layton PhD and Thomas C Hutsell PhD. "Experimental Friction Blisters in Macaque Monkeys." The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. March 31, 1969. (Accessed 09/01/2009)
  • ESPN. "10 Burning Questions for…John Wooden." 2001 (Accessed 09/01/2009)
  • Gottlieb, Ira J. D.P.M. "Avoiding Blisters in Sports." The Chesapeake Foot & Ankle Center, P.A. 2008. (Accessed 09/01/2009)
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Blisters: First aid." January 11, 2008. (Accessed 8/20/09)
  • Shwartz, Robert A. MD, MPH. "Friction Blisters: Treatment & Medication." Apr. 30, 2008. (accessed 08/11/2009)
  • WebMD. "Blisters - Home Treatment." 2007. (Accessed 8/20/09)
  • WebMD. "Blisters - Prevention." 2007. (Accessed 8/20/09)