Why Pathetic Little Foot Blisters Hurt So Badly & How To Find Relief

Photographed by Michael Beckert.
Back when I was a ballet dancer, wearing pointe shoes all day would do a number on my feet. Each blister that sprouted on my toes or heels became a science project for me — putting concoctions of alum and iodine, hydrogen peroxide, and Second Skin adhesive on the little wounds — so I could dance without pain the next day.
Even if you've never worn pointe shoes before, you know how terrible a blister can be. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant a blister looks, it seems like when you get one, you can't walk, work out, or deal at all. You're not dramatic, because blisters can hurt big time, according to Alan Bass, DPM, a podiatrist and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association in New Jersey. But knowing how they happen in the first place can help you treat them the right way, ease the pain, and more importantly, prevent them in the future.
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For starters, blisters are caused by friction between a bony prominence on your foot and your shoe, Dr. Bass says. "Through this friction, the outermost layer of skin starts to give way and bubble up," he says. Then, fluid fills between the separated skin, which causes the classic blister bubble. The reason why it hurts so much is because the fluid itself is under pressure, he says. "Think of it like a water balloon: it's just going to compress and it has nowhere to go," he says.
Often the constant friction causes the blister to pop, revealing skin underneath that's very raw, Dr. Bass says. "It hasn't toughened up yet like the skin that's exposed to the outermost layers," he says. This makes the blister and surrounding skin hurt a ton. At this stage, it's wise to keep the area covered with a bandage in order to prevent more irritation, he says. Sometimes, once the blister pops, the skin "reattaches" to itself and continues to provide protection to the raw skin underneath, he says. So if you can, "try to keep the roof of the blister intact," he says.
You might be tempted to pop the blister (it's satisfying, we get it) on your own to make it heal faster, but if you try to do that it can lead to additional problems, like an infection, Dr. Bass says. Your best bet is to just let it heal itself without interfering. And as for the other blister hacks that even I am guilty of dabbling in? "These are not things I recommend, but if people feel that they help, then that's what they choose to do," he says.
Look, you may be compelled to do whatever it takes to get rid of your blister so you can wear your precious strappy sandals again. But it's more important to prioritise comfort over fashion. When you try to walk through the pain of a blister, it can lead to stress and strain of soft tissue and ligaments in other areas of your foot, Dr. Bass says. Make sure you wear shoes that are wide enough for your foot, and that have sufficient arch support, he says.
And hey, the silver lining is that chunky trainers are really in right now.
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