Exercising, long-distance running and hiking as well as wearing heels for a long time can all be very unkind to one’s feet, causing painful, debilitating blisters. Now scientists say they have discovered a simple way to prevent this common injury.
Stanford physician and wilderness medicine expert Dr. Grant Lipman believes that all it takes is paper tape, which can be applied to blister-prone areas before exercising. Sold at most drugstores for wound treatment, surgical tape is only mildly adhesive – which prevents the tearing of blisters – and can be bought in 360-foot rolls worth only $10 each.
“People have been doing studies on blister prevention for 30 or 40 years and never found anything easy that works,” says Lipman.
The prevalence of blisters, mostly caused by friction – the repeated stress damaging the cells that make up epidermis layers – doesn’t make their effects any less damaging. Apart from complaints from extreme runners, Lipman has heard of how blisters kept military recruits from participating in basic training.
Martin Hoffman, a 59-year-old ultra-marathoner, said blisters could even spell the difference between life and death.
“If you’re in the wilderness and not very mobile, it can become a life-and-death situation. If you’re in the military, it could certainly interfere with your concentration and safety,” he explains in an SF Gate report.
In 2014, Lipman and colleagues recruited 128 runners participating in a 155-mile ultra-marathon across the globe and applied paper tape to each of the runners’ feet, either in blister-prone areas or randomly selected locations.
Following them over a week, they found that no blisters formed where the tape was applied for 98 runners. This was in contrast with 81 runners who got blisters in untaped locations.
Paper tape is a “ridiculously cheap” blister prevention method, assures Lipman, who has worked as a doctor for endurance athletes who run up to 50 miles a day in different parts of the world. He said multiple techniques have been tried – including powders, lubricants, antiperspirants and adhesive pads – but with little proof of effectiveness.
The findings will be published online April 11 in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.
Further research, however, may be necessary, as a previous study by the same team concluded that paper tape did not significantly protect against blisters among ultra-marathoners.