As a novice hiker, I went shopping for hiking boots recently and got immediately overwhelmed, not only by the multitude of options for footwear, but also by the sudden onslaught of advice on what to do about the impending problem of blisters.
Apparently, opinions run rampant on the many methods of blister prevention - from moleskin to wool socks to powders, antiperspirants, lubricants, adhesive pads. It’s a most vexing topic, particularly among hikers and endurance runners, and yet there’s a dearth of evidence to support one method over another.
In an attempt to find answers to this painful problem, Stanford emergency medicine physician and researcher Grant Lipman, MD, decided to test out a method of blister prevention popular among a group of some of the most extreme of runners in the world. The results of his study, published today in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, point to the use of inexpensive surgical paper tape - the kind found in the first aid section of your local drugstore, as an excellent blister prevention method.
In a press release I wrote on the study, Lipman tells the story of how the idea for the study germinated while he worked as a doctor for endurance athletes who were running 25 to 50 miles a day in various parts of the world:
Despite the harsh conditions and extreme exercise, the most common complaint that Lipman heard from the athletes was about the pain and debilitation caused by foot blisters, the same kind that plagues lots of people, from hikers to women in heels.
“What I kept hearing was, ‘Doctor, I’d be doing so well, if only for my feet,’” said Lipman, clinical associate professor of emergency medicine. “Their feet were getting decimated.”
Over the years, in addition to the complaints from the extreme runners, Lipman has heard from military doctors, bemoaning the state of their military recruits’ feet. Blisters were keeping recruits from participating in basic training. From his experience treating athletes and listening to his patients, Lipman drew anecdotal evidence that the paper tape method could provide the best answer. Then he set out to test the theory.
In 2014, Lipman and his colleagues recruited 128 runners participating in the 155-mile, six-stage RacingThePlanet ultramarathon event and applied paper tape to just one of each of the runners’ feet. (The untaped areas of the same foot served as a control.) Medical assistants applied the tape in a single, smooth layer before the race and at stages during the race following them for 155 miles over seven days. The results were exciting, Lipman said: For 98 of the 128 runners, no blisters formed where the tape had been applied, whereas 81 of the 128 got blisters in untaped areas.
“It’s kind of a ridiculously cheap, easy method of blister prevention,” Lipman told me. “You can get it anywhere. A little roll costs about 69 cents, and that should last a year or two.”
Previously: Preparing for bites, stings and blisters this summer
Photo, of Grant Lipman tending to a racer in Chile, courtesy of Lipman