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Choose the right footwear from the start if you want to finish the race.

The friction between footwear and the skin of the feet can cause painful friction blisters. In endurance and multi-day sporting events, completing is often down whether blisters can be prevented or effectively managed.

The 99th running of the Nijmegen Four Days Marches, provided the testing ground for differing blister treatments. Attracting thousands, the Four Days Marches is the world’s largest multi-day walking event. Participants walk between 30 and 55km each day, for four days. Blister treatments were given to 4131 participants; blisters were covered with either an adhesive blister patch or wrapped in adhesive tape, covering a wider area.

Neither treatment was particularly effective, and many of the people treated for blisters were unable to finish the event. So, if there is one important message, it’s that prevention works better than attempted remedy. Having the correct footwear, including socks, from the start is optimal. Also, as soon as one feels a warming or slight burning sensation, it’s important to stop immediately and begin treatment. In walkers who did this, a wider area of adhesive tape was found to be marginally better than a blister patch.

The three best ways to prevent blisters

  • Have the correct footwear. Ensure your trainers are well-fitting and friction-free. For expert advice take advantage of the specialist shoe fitting services offered at many sports stores.
  • Sensible socks. Opt for the socks that fit snuggly and don’t rub or bunch down. Excess moisture can exacerbate blisters, so choose breathable nylon socks or the specialist moisture wicking woollen socks that are designed to help eliminate moisture. Cotton socks, which absorb and retain the moisture, are not your friend!
  • Watch for warning signs. As soon as you feel any friction or warming stop walking or running and take action – using a wide strip of adhesive tape can be marginally better than a blister patch.

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Professor David Cameron-Smith is a regular Fit Planet contributor. A transplanted Australian living in New Zealand, he obtained a PhD in nutritional biochemistry from Deakin University, and undertook postdoctoral training at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney. His research interests include the importance of nutrition in the maintenance of optimal health in an ageing population, and the impact of nutrition in regulating the function of muscles.

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