THE PLACE TO GO WHEN YOU CAN'T GO BACKPACKING

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Diane Spicer

Diane Spicer has 2 articles published.

Blister Popping: Two Camps

in Skills by
blisters-600x450

Heat. Moisture. Friction.

Sounds like an accurate description inside your boots after a few miles on the trail, right?

It also describes the triad of conditions leading to a blister.

To understand the impact of this triad on your skin, visualize one of those thin plastic bags, hanging on a roll in the produce section of your favorite grocery store.

What do you usually have to do to get one open? Vigorously rub one layer against the other (friction and heat), and lick your finger (moisture) to separate the layers.

Congratulations! You’ve demonstrated the triad.

blisters-600x450
Photo credit: oregonoutside.net

Now transfer that knowledge to your hot, swollen, sweaty feet encased in soggy, dirt encrusted socks, entombed within your snug boots.

  • Warm, damp socks rub the top layers of cells on your feet, while grimy boot linings drag against the socks. (Extra heat and friction due to trail detritus like stones and pine needles, optional.)
  • Over time, the blister triad succeeds in separating the top layers of your skin (epidermis) from the underlying dermis. A new space is formed.
  • Clear fluid from epidermal cells, and/or dark red fluid from blood vessels in the dermis (“blood blister”), begins to leak into the space.
  • The epidermis is forced into a dome shape to accommodate the fluid.
  • Jangled nerve endings in the dermis fire off messages to the brain.

And that’s when you have to decide which camp you’re in.

hiking-boots
Photo credit: adirondack.net

 

The “Pop A Blister” Camp

You’re a popper if you’re thinking:

1. This hurts!” You can relieve some of the pressure, and thus pain, by allowing the fluid to drain out.

2. It’s big.” You don’t have enough moleskin (which relieves friction and pressure if properly applied) to bail you out of this one.

3. “I need to keep going.” If none of the variables in the triad are changed, the blister will enlarge. If you don’t have extra socks, a layover day, or a change of footwear, pop it and keep it covered so you can reach your objective.

4. I’m in charge!” When you decide to pop a blister under controlled conditions, you can keep it clean and save the top flap of epidermal skin to use as a protective “lid” over the tender dermis.

5. It’s leaking.” Once a blister starts to leak fluid, little nasties like bacteria and dirt can enter your bloodstream. Time to drain it completely and clean it.

 

The “Don’t Pop” Camp

You fall into the non-popper camp with these statements:

1. I don’t want to make it worse.” You can try to keep the blistered skin intact to protect the dermis until you can stop hiking (see #4 & #5 above).

2. It’s tender but not excruciating (yet).” Popping a blister does not always relieve pain. In fact, open raw skin is exquisitely sensitive to pressure inside your boot.

3. I don’t have the right stuff.” No soap, alcohol wipes, sharp pointy objects, bandages, antibiotic ointment, or tape in your pack? No blister popping for you!

4. I’m diabetic or take immune suppression medication.” Leave it alone and check it often. If the blister pops, treat it aggressively to head off the risk of infection. There’s no such thing as a trivial blister for a diabetic.

5. Yuck!” Maybe you’re hiking solo AND you’re squeamish about stabbing yourself in a painful spot with a sharp object. Or could it be that you aren’t enthused about handing over a sharp object to your trail buddy?

 

Ignoring Blisters: Not An Option

If the pain of a blister doesn’t get your attention, the risk of infection and the oozy, bloody socks might force you into one camp or the other.

Before a sharp pointy object is deployed:

  • Size up the depth of the blister(s).
  • Factor in your pain threshold and risk tolerance.
  • Decide whether or not your hiking plans can be modified to allow a speedy epidermis/dermis reunion.
  • Calculate your patience for hobbling.

Then pop. Or not.

Good luck!

Foot Care For Hikers

in Community/Skills by
Foot Care For Hikers
Photo by David Goehring

Every mode of transportation requires regularly scheduled maintenance. Why should a hiker’s feet be any different?

Let’s take a quick peek at the moving parts inside your hiking boots.

Soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons) work together with bony tissues to create a flexible mobile weight bearing structure. Add lots of wrapping and binding materials (fascia and other connective tissues), plus miles of blood vessels and nerves. Cover it with waterproof stretchy skin. Throw in a few protective toenails, and you’ve got the biological device that carries you over hill and dale.

Just for fun, take a guess: How many foot bones do you possess?

26 bones/foot = 52, or 25% of all of the bones in your body!

Now estimate how many steps you take in an average hike, how much your pack weighs, and how many hours your feet are trapped in tightly laced footwear.

Beginning to see why foot self-care is a big deal? Regular preventive foot care will decrease the likelihood of foot problems and maximize your trail time. Check out these tips on foot care for hikers to make sure you’re preparing your body for the best possible experience on trail.

Try these proactive foot care strategies at home:

  • Pick up marbles and straws with your toes.
  • Walk barefoot on sand, grass and pebbles.
  • Try a foot reflexology path. (It will hurt the first time!)
  • Apply firm, sustained pressure to sore spots on toes, arches and heels.
  • Trim toenails before every hike.
  • Before bed, do ankle rolls in both directions to send oxygenated blood to your feet.
  • Ditch contortionist footwear forever: high heels, pointy toes, tight non-breathable shoes.
  • Don’t settle for “good enough” hiking footwear. Go for amazing.

 

Be proactive on the trail:Foot Care For Hikers

  • Wiggle your toes vigorously every few minutes. Boots too snug for wiggling? You need a half size bigger.
  • Sliding, bunching, pinching socks? Try a different boot/sock combo.
  • Remove your boots and socks at rest breaks. Pull on your toes. Elevate your feet to aid the return of blood and lymph to your heart.
  • To short circuit inflammation, plunge hot, swollen, achy feet into an icy stream, or use your bandanna or hat to create an impromptu cold pack from a snow field.

 

 

Swing into reactive mode for trail twinges, cramps and pain:

  • Don’t trudge onward without evaluating foot problems. It might be an easy fix: re-lace your boots, adjust your socks, or remove the pine cone from your boot.
  • Muscle cramps indicate electrolyte depletion. Your nutrition and hydration strategies might need some tweaking.
  • Don’t ignore hot spots or that “uh oh” feeling in your feet. Traditional hiker fixes for hot spots (not actual blisters) include duct tape, band aids and moleskin.
  • Blisters mean you’ve separated the top layers of skin from deeper layers, creating a nice little pocket for fluid to build up. Deal with a blister immediately with moleskin. To pop or not to pop? If you’ve got the supplies to do a clean job of it, popping might buy you some more trail time. Or it might buy you an infection with a deeply blistered area. Tough situational call.
  • Achy feet could be due to “fallen” or “high” arches. Supportive and sturdy hiking boots with custom fitted arch supports (orthotics) might make your feet happier on the trail.
Foot Care For Hikers
Photo by Douglas Scortegagna
  • Bruised, sore feet and toes indicate tight fitting footwear pressing on the underlying bones and soft tissues. Try bigger boots with thicker, more cushiony socks, combined with neatly trimmed toenails.
  • “Plantar fasciitis” or “painful heel syndrome” are chronic problems with your heel bone (calcaneus) and its fascia. Don’t keep hiking when this level of pain is sending you a warning message.
  • Swelling, bruising, deeper skin color, heat or pain (either statically or during motion) indicate muscle/tendon inflammation in your foot. Apply PRICE: Protection from additional injury, Rest (I know! You’d rather hike.), Ice (apply an on demand ice pack or snow/water soaked bandanna), Compression (ace bandage, loosely applied) and Elevation (not the trail kind).
  • Sudden problems such as a popping sound, inability to bear weight, lots of pain and swelling, or numbness, require aggressive short term PRICE, then medical attention.
  • Short term over the counter pain relief is a personal choice based on pre-existing medical conditions or prescription medications. NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen) will relieve pain and swelling, while acetaminophen will suppress pain signals but not address inflammatory swelling.

Your trail happiness begins and ends – literally – at your feet. So send a little regular TLC their way.

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