Blisters

The back of two feet showing red blisters on each heel

What is a blister?

A blister, or specifically a friction blister, is a fluid-filled sac enclosed by skin that develops on the outer layers of your skin in response to repetitive friction.

They occur when an area of your skin is in contact with another object (eg. the inside of your shoes) and the movement between the two surfaces causes this friction. These sheer forces cause the thin layers of your skin to separate, and the body then fills this gap with fluid, forming a sac. This sac forms as a defensive response to protect the skin underneath from further damage. 

Blisters are often quite painful and can make walking in certain footwear uncomfortable until the blister has healed. 

Causes & risk factors

Friction blisters are very common and can affect anyone, especially those who wear ill-fitting shoes and damp socks. When the skin of the feet continually rub against a shoe, sock or hard and rough surface, it may become irritated and inflamed causing redness and pain. If the cause of the friction continues, the redness will develop, the skin layers start to separate and the fluid enters, forming the blister.

This friction could be caused by a combination of issues, including;

  • Poor fitting footwear
  • Foot deformities
  • Moisture from sweating
  • Heat from inside the shoe
  • Prolonged and vigorous exercise
  • New shoes
  • Inappropriate socks for activity
  • Unforgiving hard and/or rough materials.

Treatment

We do not recommend popping your blister as this will cause you more pain and leave the wound open to bacteria and infection. Instead, cover it with a band aid or bigger dressing that covers the entire blister and leave it to heal itself. It will usually resolve in a few days, once covered and the source of friction has been removed. Eventually the fluid beneath the skin will disappear once the new skin begins to grow underneath.

It is important that you remove the cause of friction once the blister has formed. This will allow the painful skin to heal and recover. If it does pop, try not to remove the dead skin on top and wash the area gently with water and antiseptic wipes or Betadine. Then cover with a gauze or sterile, dry bandage that can protect it from further trauma until the fragile skin has healed.

Unless severe, most blisters will heal without the need to see your doctor or podiatrist. If your blister requires further treatment, we can help by:

  • Debriding the surrounding hard skin if required
  • Identifying the cause of friction and determine ways to remove it.
  • Apply professional dressings
  • Give advice around appropriate and correct fitting footwear and socks

What can happen if I ignore a blister

If you do not remove the cause of friction, a number of things could occur:

  • Persistent pain preventing you from exercise and daily activities
  • Infection, especially if you are immunocompromised or a diabetic. 
  • Scarring due to infection or a deeper injury

Prevention

There are a number of approaches you can take to prevent friction blisters. 

  • Wear properly fitted shoes to reduce the friction against your skin
  • If you have sweaty feet, change your socks regularly, as moisture causes friction and rubbing. 
  • Wear the correct socks for the activity eg. sports socks for sports and training
  • Wear socks with footwear when possible
  • Avoid synthetic socks eg. polyester and nylon
  • Ensure feet remain dry and are dried properly

Other similar conditions

There are a number of other common conditions that have similar symptoms to a friction blister. It's important to know these so they are not missed, and if you suspect one of these conditions, it is recommended you visit our clinic or your general practitioner for a second opinion. 

FAQs

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