Blisters are an ongoing issue for athletes; dancers, runners, hikers and although they are not considering an 'injury', a dancer can be extremely limited by having blisters or being 'prone' to blisters. Interestingly, it's not 'rubbing' on the surface of the skin that causes blistering, it's something called 'shear' - where the layers of skin move over each other underneath the top layer of skin until eventually a tear occurs that does the damage.
Every dancer has a 'blister story' - the one that was really bad and took time to heal (and you may have taken a photo, because it looked so bad!). What dancers may not realise is the damage done by a significant blister can make them prone to blistering in the same place again - often referred to as a 'hot spot'. To check if your dancer has a 'hot spot', check their feet after class - the area where there was previously a bad blister will be red or aggravated. Remember it can take 6 weeks for the damaged layers of skin to come to the surface and be completely healed - re-blistering is a high risk during this period.
Preventing blisters is a significant challenge and some dancers will be more prone to blistering than others. Shoes are often blamed the most for causing blisters but really it is a mixture of movement (shear), moisture and friction that produces the blister. Moisture from the heat inside the shoe and sweat from exertion makes the skin prone to tearing. Add in the friction and you have a blister scenario. So even a dancer with a well broken in pair of heavies will get blisters if they are dancing for a considerable period of time, Essentially if you do something for long enough, it's gonna hurt at some point!. It may even be that you danced your lights for an hour and then changed into your heavies along with your damp socks and moisture laden skin. This scenario can be reduced significantly by reducing the friction and the moisture level within the shoe.
So how can a dancer train in comfort (and for longer)?;
1. If you have a history of blisters (or even just "one really bad one"), pay attention to the 'hot spots' on your feet - check them before and after class. This can be your warning sign that the skin is under pressure and you need to take extra care in how long you dance for.
2. Reduce friction by wearing a double layer training sock - research shows that they reduce friction levels significantly. These must fit well so that the inside layer is fitted to the foot while the outside layer absorbs the friction. Ideally the inside layer should have antimicrobial agents (e.g MerylSkinlife) to reduce bacteria, drawing moisture to the outside layer. For Skin Shields be guided by both the street shoe size and heavy shoe size (which tends to be smaller). For example, a dancer in a street shoe size 2.5 and a heavy shoe 1.5 would be a size Small. (Message us if you need guidance - view Skin Shields information page here).
3. Reduce the moisture levels inside your shoes. Firstly, wear a sock that will absorb moisture but secondly (and most important) change the socks if you are dancing for extended periods of time. If your class or workshop is longer than 1.5 hours, have a spare pair of socks in your bag and change them. Keeping the feet dry will prevent skin tearing.
4. If you are unfortunate enough to have a blister, apply a Compeed blister plaster. Remember though, that you must leave it on until it starts to come off itself (when the skin is healed). Attempting to remove the plaster will pull off the top layer of skin again. A dancer should be able to continue class in a Compeed blister plaster and a double layer sock.
5. And what about the toes? The best protection for the toes are silicone gel toe sleeves. These can be bought in a long tube and cut to the lengths required. They provide cushioning and reduce friction.
6. The usual advice of making sure the shoes fit properly is important. Remember though that the skin "shears" with every step you take during the day and it's the extension of that when dancing - sometimes for long periods of time - that creates the environment for blisters.
There are steps you can take to prevent and reduce blisters and it begins with paying attention to your feet (or in the case of younger dancers, your dancers feet). Check for 'hot spots' from older blisters, keep feet as try as possible (change your socks in class), reduce friction (double layer sock) and protect your toes with silicone toe sleeves.
Happy Dancing everyone! #happyfeet