Whether you’ve walked miles in hiking boots or a new pair of high heels, you know the pain of a blister. “People have been getting blisters as long as we’ve been outside,” says Dr. Grant Lipman, clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Stanford Medicine.
Experts still disagree on how to prevent them. But in a new study published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, Lipman and his colleagues found that the cheapest solution may also be the best: surgical paper tape.
To find out if paper tape really helps stop blisters from forming, Lipman decided to study ultramarathon runners. “Their feet are just getting wrecked,” Lipman says. Blisters are the single most devastating factor affecting an ultramarathon runner’s performance.
In RacingThePlanet, a grueling 155-mile ultramarathon across four deserts, a team of medical assistants followed 128 runners who were carrying their own food and gear. The medical team applied Micropore paper tape—the kind available in drugstores—to blister-prone areas of one foot per runner. The other foot served as a control.
At the end of the race, paper tape reduced blisters by 40%. Only 30 of the taped feet got blisters, while 81 of the untaped feet got blisters. And when taped-up feet did get blisters, they got them much later on in the race.
When a spot on the skin is repeatedly rubbed, the skin layers can separate and fill with fluid, which becomes a blister. The way to prevent them is to make the area of the foot more slippery, which eases friction, Lipman explains. Some methods seem to work, but they come with drawbacks; while antiperspirant does the trick for many people, it also irritates their skin, according to past studies. Fancy adhesive pads and high-tech gels can work, but they’re expensive.
Paper surgical tape not only works, but comes with lots of advantages. “It’s not too adhesive, so it won’t rip the underlying blister’s roof off,” Lipman says. “One roll of this over-the-counter ubiquitous cheap little tape can last for years.”