Blisters: Sock it to ‘em

There are “steps” you can take to protect your feet from blisters. Common among athletes and service members, they might seem like a minor nuisance. However, if left untreated, they can lead to serious infections, sepsis (blood infection), and knee, ankle, or hip injuries.

Blisters result from a combination of friction and moisture. They’ve been blamed on shoe fit or lacing style, but scientific research has shown this isn’t necessarily the case. Common remedies—such as applying antiperspirant or drying powders to the bottom of the foot—aren’t very effective. And in some instances, they can cause irritation, increasing your chances of developing more blisters.

So if friction and moisture are causing problems, then wearing proper socks can bring relief. Look for ones made from acrylic fibers or materials other than cotton, which tends to stay wet. Synthetic materials (nylon, neoprene, and polyester) reduce the amount of shoe-to-sock and sock-to-foot friction by wicking moisture away from your skin. Padded socks also help because they allow for movement within the yarn, reducing frictional forces.

Some evidence suggests wearing a synthetic nylon or polyester liner with an outer-padded wool sock can help prevent blisters. Tip: Try finding your ideal sock before buying boots or shoes because the added bulk might affect the shoe size you need.

You also can reduce your risk of blisters by planning ahead, especially on extremely hot or rainy days. Avoid puddles. Remember to bring an extra pair of socks too. And avoid pouring water on your head since it can drip down into your shoes. Keep your feet happy and blister-free. 

Resources

Herring, K. M. & Richie, D. H. (1990). Friction blisters and sock fiber composition. A double-blind study. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, 80(2), 63–71. doi:10.7547/87507315-80-2-63

Herring, K. M. & Richie, D. H. (1993). Comparison of cotton and acrylic socks using a generic cushion sole design for runners. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, 83(9), 515–522. doi:10.7547/87507315-83-9-515

Jagoda, A., Madden, H., & Hinson, C. (1981). A friction blister prevention study in a population of Marines. Military Medicine, 146(1), 42–44.

Knapik J. J., Hamlet M. P., Thompson K. J., & Jones B. H. (1996). Influence of boot-sock systems on frequency and severity of foot blisters. Military Medicine, 161(10), 594–598.

Van Tiggelen, D., Wickes, S., Coorevits, P., Dumalin, M., & Witvrouw, E. (2009). Sock systems to prevent foot blisters and the impact on overuse injuries of the knee joint Military Medicine, 174(2), 183–189.

Xing, M., Pan, N., Zhong, W., & Maibach, H. (2007). Skin friction blistering: computer model. Skin Research and Technology, 13(3), 310–316. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0846.2007.00230.x