You don’t have to have worn roller skates for long (or ever) to know about blisters. You can get them from doing pretty much any activity. Most people who get them will end up with them somewhere on a hand or foot, and if you’ve ever found yourself with one it was probably in a spot you seemed to be “using” a lot, which made it hurt worse. And if it burst or you made the mistake of bursting it . . .
That’s why this post is going to be about blisters, how you get them, and what you can do about them. We’ve already done a post on lace bite, and blisters are so common it would be silly of us to not mention them.
Why does a blister form?
First, it’s important to know what a blister is. A blister is a pocket in the upper layers of skin that may be filled with a body fluid that is usually clear. Blisters can be caused in a variety of ways, but in skating they’re most likely to be caused by a lot of rubbing (that is, friction), particularly on moist skin in warm conditions . . . like sweaty feet in skates. But really, any sort of harsh rubbing will do, such as when you have brand new skates or when they’re the wrong size.
Blisters caused by friction form when layers of skin separate and rub together. The damage causes the torn skin cells to release a clear fluid that both cushions against further damage and provides nutrients for the formation of new cells. As the new cells form, this fluid is absorbed or otherwise used and any swelling that was associated with the blister subsides.
How do I prevent a blister from forming?
Because so many different factors can cause a blister to form, there’s no one single way to prevent them. But there are precautions you can take, either before a blister has formed or when one is trying to form.
Ensure that your skates fit properly. It may seem like a frugal idea to buy what’s cheap—particularly if you’re just starting out and aren’t sure you’ll keep up with it, or know you will but haven’t decided on a specific discipline—but if your skates don’t fit well then you’ll find reasons to not skate anyway. So shop around and find what feels good on your feet. This isn’t just foot size we’re talking about, but brand—different manufacturers will make skates with boots of different widths, and that will impact your comfort level.
Break in your skates. To do this without causing blisters, only skate in brand-new skates for a short time. Allow the material of your skate boot or liner to learn the shape of your foot and form to it. As that happens, you’ll be able to skate longer and longer without fear of blisters.
Know your hot spots. The telltale sign of friction is heat, even when there’s no accompanying redness or swelling. If you notice you’re feeling sore at a certain spot or spots on your feet when you skate, touch those place and then nearby skin to see if there’s a difference in temperature. If there is, that’s a hot spot, and it’s likely to become a blister if you don’t make changes.
Pad your feet. The cheapest way is with a thick pair of socks that will act as a cushion and barrier against rubbing. If sweaty feet are a thing for you and you normally wear thin socks, realize that thin socks are inadequate padding for prolonged activity; instead, bring extra pairs of thick socks and swap them out from time to time (the dry socks will protect better, too). Blister pads are cushioned and can also help protect areas that might blister, though sweat may make these difficult to use properly. Athletic or sports tape is another option.
Check your form. Is your skating form correct? Probably not. When you skate, make sure you’re pushing off with your heel instead of your toes. If there’s a speed skating team near you, talk to them; it’s very important for them to know good skating form for endurance skating, so they can give you tips.
Oh no, I have a blister! What do I do?
First and most importantly, resist popping it unless you’re told to by a doctor. A blister is a defensive act of the body, and by popping it you break down that defense and recreate the circumstances that led to the initial blister, setting yourself up for a bigger and more painful second blister. You’re also opening a wound to pain and infection if the top layer of skin tears away. If a doctor does instruct you to pop a blister, ensure sterile conditions and equipment before doing so to reduce the risk of infection.
If the blister doesn’t pop, pad it with callus cushions or makeup sponges to reduce friction. Remember, a blister is self-defense, but it’s also telling you that something is wrong and you need to protect yourself better.
Sometimes a blister will pop on its own. If this happens, don’t remove the top layer. Doing so will expose the lower layers to infection. Instead, dab away any fluid and then gently clean the area where the blister is. If possible, don’t cover it—good clean air contributes to healing and prevents some infections from taking hold. If you have to cover it, apply a bandage through which your skin can breathe. Either take a break from skating so it can heal or use some sort of thick cushioning to protect it when you skate.
Blisters hurt. If you can at all avoid them, we highly recommend it. Pay attention to hot spots and pad them to protect yourself. But if you develop a blister anyway, be very careful with it. Cushion it, don’t burst it, and give it time to heal.