Blisters are the scourge of distance runners, with 40% being affected by them in some races, but using paper tape could help prevent them

Blisters, caused by a combination of friction and moisture around the feet, are the scourge of runners in long distance races, afflicting up to 40% of competitors in some events. But preventing them might be easier (and cheaper) than you think.

A new study reveals that distance runners who apply inexpensive surgical tape – made from paper and available at any chemist – to their feet before a race get fewer blisters on those areas than on non-taped areas.

“Blisters happen to just about everyone,” said Grant Lipman, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Stanford University, who led the new study.

For his trial, Professor Lipman recruited almost 130 men and women participating in an annual ultra race run across parts of Jordan, Madagascar and the Gobi and Atacama deserts. Prior to the race, the volunteers had their feet wrapped with the thin tape, the researchers paying particular attention to areas that had previously been affected by blisters, usually the toes.

After 200 miles of running, most of the athletes in the study had developed at least one blister. But approximately 70% of the blisters had occurred on an unprotected part of the foot. Significantly few blisters had developed on areas of the feet that had been taped.

“Paper tape is a very smooth thin tape, it causes easier sliding at the skin interface so likely decreases the shear stress under the tape,” said Professor Lipman.

“Also, it does not have a very strong adhesive quality so if a blister does form under the tape, pulling the tape off will not rip off the ‘roof’ of a blister.”

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