Friction blisters on your hands or feet are a common health problem and affect most people at some point during their lives. This problem is caused by friction from your shoes or clothing rubbing repeatedly against your skin, causing friction burns. Friction blisters manifest when the outer layer of your skin separates from your inner layer of skin and the space between these two layers fills with lymph fluid. Friction blisters can cause significant pain or discomfort in your affected area and may impair your ability to walk. Many types of footwear may cause friction blisters on your feet or ankles, especially if your shoes are not fitted properly.
Skin blisters may develop for numerous reasons. Factors that may contribute to skin blister formation include:
- Burns: Prolonged sun exposure along with exposure to radiation, flames, steam, or hot surfaces may cause skin blisters.
- Irritants: Certain chemicals, cosmetics, and other toxins may cause your skin to blister. Irritant-related skin blistering usually requires direct skin contact with the offending agent or substance.
- Drugs: Reactions to certain prescription medications are a common cause of skin blisters. Review past drug interactions with your physician before taking any prescription medicines. Speak with your doctor as soon as possible if you develop skin blisters after taking your medication.
- Health Conditions: Some autoimmune conditions—conditions in which your immune system attacks normal, healthy tissue within your body—may cause skin blisters.
- Infection: Skin blisters are among the most easily observable signs of several infectious conditions, including shingles, chickenpox, cold sores, impetigo, and various fungal infections.
- Friction: Friction blisters are among the most common types of skin blisters. Friction blisters are caused by brief and intense contact between a specific skin area and your shoe or sock. Friction blisters differ from corns and calluses in that corns and calluses occur over time and cause a thickening of your skin.
Causes and Symptoms
Friction blisters develop when fluid accumulates under your skin as a direct result of one or more of the following factors:
- Shearing forces
Some of the most commonly experienced symptoms associated with friction blisters include pain and a burning sensation in your affected area. Other signs and symptoms that may accompany skin blisters include:
- Joint pain
- Reduced appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A tingling sensation that develops before your blister
Immediately contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
Friction blister care has been greatly enhanced by the introduction of acrylic wicking fiber technology in socks and nonprescription topical antiperspirants. Several high-quality research studies have provided the scientific evidence that allows podiatrists to recommend these items to help prevent friction blisters.
Other ways to help prevent friction blisters include:
- Using a double layer acrylic sock system.
- Regularly applying topical antiperspirants to the skin of your feet and ankles and between your toes.
- Having your feet professionally fitted for shoes and boots of proper length, width, and volume to help eliminate possible pressure points over your bony prominences or toes. Excessive motion of your foot within your shoe or boot is one of the most common causes of friction blisters.
- Using baby, talcum, and anti-fungal powders to help dry out the internal environment of your shoes and reduce friction.
- Using petroleum jelly, body glide, bag balm, and various other slippery products to help reduce the amount of friction your shoe or boot can cause to your feet or toes.
- Using tape, moleskin, blister block, and various hydro gels.
- Using shoe and boot dryers. This item may be particularly helpful for people who use their footwear daily and experience significant perspiration throughout the day.
You have two principle treatment options if you develop a friction blister. Your first option is to lance or puncture your blister with a metallic object that has been boiled or subjected to flame sterilization. This treatment technique increases your chances of developing a bacterial infection, and it is recommended that you cover the opening of your blister after treatment. Antibiotic ointments and creams may further help prevent infection of your skin blister. Cleaning your involved area with soap and water before applying bandages is recommended.
Your second treatment option is to leave your friction blister intact and wait for it to dissipate. This option may be less acceptable for an individual who develops a blister in the middle of physical activity; someone who still needs to finish the last few miles of a long hike or run, for example. The blister creates more friction and space restriction as it enlarges, compounding a bad situation. You are at greater risk for friction blisters if you have diabetes or another health condition that causes decreased sensation in your feet. Regular screening exams with your podiatrist are important for preventing or treating friction blisters.
In his 18 years as a podiatrist, Dr. Ray McClanahan has learned that most foot problems can be corr...