The bane of the existence of many runners and hikers, not to mention other athletes, is getting blisters on their feet, but that might soon become a thing of the past. One simple and inexpensive method obtained at almost any pharmacy or grocery store, paper surgical tape, blisters can be reduced by 40 percent, according to a new study published Monday by Stanford researchers in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.
Grant Lipman, an emergency medicine doctor at Stanford Health Care and the lead author of the study, said that his inspiration for the topic came from having spent 10 years treating the blisters and other foot injuries of ultramarathoners. He stated that one of the most common reasons he heard from these amazing athletes for dropping out of a race was that their feet hurt. He said that the athletes would tell him things like, “Doc, I feel great, it’s just my feet.”
Runners often train for years and spend a lot of money in the pursuit of excellence in their sport, only to be foiled by the agony of having blisters on their feet, making every stride a challenge. Lipman mentioned that many studies have been done on the subject of blister prevention, but nobody had come up with a low-cost and effective method to deal with blisters on the feet of runner, hikers, and other athletes.
Some of the studies on blisters on the feet of runners and other athletes focused on possible methods to prevent blisters from forming, like “powders, antiperspirants, lubricants, tapes and adhesive pads,” according to Science Daily. The methods had varying degrees of success, though one drawback to some of them were that they were, relatively speaking, expensive.
However, Lipman had heard claims that had been circulated around that paper tape might be a possible solution to the problem. Lipman and his research team decided to conduct a trial study to find out if paper tape was, indeed, an effective method to reduce foot blisters.
The study involved 128 ultramarathoners, all of whom were taking part in a six-stage ultramarathon called RacingThePlanet, in 2014. The ultramarathon was 155 miles long, according to the Washington News Wire, and competitors raced across “the Jordan, Gobi, Madagascar and Atacama deserts.” The researchers studied how the runners were doing in regards to developing blisters on their feet for the entire seven days of the ultramarathon race.
The team of researchers from Stanford randomly selected a foot on each of the 128 participants in the study who were about to run in the ultramarathon. Then, they asked the runners what parts of that foot was the most prone to getting blisters and the researchers applied the paper tape to those areas. If a runner replied that there were not any places on his or her foot that generally got blisters, the researchers applied paper tape to a randomly chosen area of the foot. Also, tape was applied “at subsequent stages of the race.”
Lipman added that after the foot was taped, he and the other researchers would compare what seemed to be the most sensitive area on the foot with the rest of the foot. Lipman said that they did this so that they could see, as he puts it, if the tape could “prevent a blister directly under the tape.”
The conclusion that Lipman and his colleagues arrived at with the study is that paper tape does not work 100 percent of the time at preventing blisters from forming on the feet of runners, hikers, and other athletes, but it is fairly effective at doing the job. Of the 128 runners who had areas of one of their feet taped, 98 of them did not get any blisters underneath the taped areas. Also, of the 128 runners, 81 of them got blisters in untaped areas of their feet.
Lipman stated that he and his fellow research team members think that the paper tape probably works because it is “very thin” and “very smooth.” The researchers developed a theory that the paper tape, by being so smooth, “decreases friction and rubbing and shear stress on those sensitive areas just underneath the tape.” He said that blisters are caused by the “shear stress within the cell layers.” That “shear stress,” results in the separation of individual skin cells and the formation of blisters.
Another added plus is that the paper tape “has a low adhesive quality.” That means that when the paper tape is taken off or falls off, it is not as likely as other types of bandages to “tear the skin and leave an open wound.” Though many other studies have previously been done on blisters on feet and how to prevent them, Lipman said that the study he and his colleagues undertook was the first one that looked specifically at the use of paper tape to help prevent blisters.
Blisters on the feet might become a thing of the past for runners, hikers, and other athletes, all thanks to an inexpensive and easily found roll of paper tape, according to Lipman’s study. However, the website Lifehacker points out that this study was a fairly small one. More studies on just how effective paper tape is at helping to prevent blisters on feet are needed, but with the cost of a roll of paper tape usually under a dollar, it is inexpensive to try out and put it to the test. Lipman stated that he hopes that the research he and his research team conducted about the effectiveness of paper tape at helping to prevent blisters “will help more people to reach their finish lines free of debilitating blisters.”
By John Samuels