Powders, lubricants, adhesive pads, bandages — even mouthwash. You name it, and people have used it to treat blisters. A common complaint that plagues everyone from hikers to military personnel to women wearing high heels, blisters can take an otherwise healthy individual out of contention.
It was a complaint that emergency medicine physician Dr. Grant Lipman heard regularly from the endurance athletes he treated. Lipman worked with runners who completed 25- to 50-mile runs in various parts of the world, from China to Antarctica to Chile. Time and time again, his athletes dropped out of races, not because of their physical conditioning, but because they had developed blisters. And time and time again, Lipman was unable to find a reliable method of prevention.
Lipman knew that endurance athletes weren't the only ones getting sidelined by blisters. In informal chats with military doctors, he knew that blisters kept many recruits from completing basic training. So he teamed up with Dr. Brian Krabak, a sports medicine physician affiliated with the University of Washington to take a closer look at this issue.
Anecdotally, Lipman had heard about a potential prevention method using inexpensive paper tape, the kind that sells for about a buck at any drugstore. He wanted to test it. In 2014, Lipman and Krabak recruited 128 runners who were participating in the 155-mile, six-stage RacingThePlanet ultramarathon. RacingThePlanet crosses deserts around the globe, including the Gobi Desert and deserts in Jordan and Madagascar.
Researchers applied paper tape to one foot on each of the recruits. The tape was applied in a single layer before and at subsequent points along the race. Over the seven days and 155 miles of the course, researchers checked on the runners' feet and found that 77 percent of the runners had no blisters in areas where tape had been applied, while 63 percent had blisters on their untaped foot. Researchers also noted that when the runners did develop blisters on their taped feet, they did so at much later stages of the race. And since the paper tape is only lightly adhesive, removing it didn't tear blisters that formed.
The study, which was recently published in Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, was one of the first to find a concrete method for treating blisters. While other methods have been used with some success, most are either too expensive or too irritating to use regularly. Lipman and Krabak found that inexpensive paper tape is not only the cheapest solution for treating blisters, it's also the best.