Health & Body

Need Blister Relief? Try These 5 Tips for Happier Feet

Pacific Northwest ballet principal Lindsi Dec tapes her toes to protect them from blisters. Lindsay Thomas.

Sally Turkel never had a problem with her feet. Tape on her big and little toes was all she needed before slipping on her pointe shoes. But when she joined Colorado Ballet as a young dancer, the new demands of company life took a toll, and blisters became a constant enemy. "I wasn't prepared for it," says Turkel, now a principal with Ballet San Antonio. "I became known as the one who always had terrible feet issues." It took a few years of experience and tips passed down from senior company members to learn how to avoid blisters.

"A blister is a sign from your body that it's time to take a step back," says Monara Dini, a podiatrist and assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. "Ignoring it for too long can lead to infection, and a breakdown of the skin and wounds that ultimately take a long time to heal." Fortunately, the right foot care can help dancers speed healing, minimize pain and even avoid blisters in the first place.


Find the Right Fit

Via Burst

Blisters are caused by a combination of friction, pressure and moisture. When the skin is subjected to repeated force, it creates tears in the second and third layers of the skin, while the uppermost layer remains intact. A serum-like fluid flows in to fill the space.

The culprit can be too-big or too-small shoes that create unnecessary friction and aggravate "hot spots," such as bunions and hammertoes, says Diana Werner, also a podiatrist and assistant clinical professor at UCSF. Proper fit is essential. Keep in mind that feet evolve over time, sometimes growing in size or developing new pressure points. "Chronic blisters are a sign that your feet have changed," says Werner. If blisters suddenly become a problem, consider getting refitted.

Avoid Chafing

Slightly damp skin blisters more easily than either very wet or very dry skin. A little petroleum jelly dabbed onto vulnerable spots just before dancing (and reapplied as frequently as possible during long rehearsals) can reduce friction to minimize chafing.

To keep skin dry, Werner recommends sprinkling foot powder inside pointe shoes just before dancing. Also, wear tights made of synthetic, "wicking" materials, such as polyester or microfibers; cotton tends to absorb sweat and exacerbate chafing. When it comes to padding, Werner says old-fashioned lambswool is still the best at wicking moisture away from skin.

And smokers, take note: Studies suggest blisters are more likely to develop among cigarette users, possibly because tobacco damages the skin and constricts blood vessels in a way that weakens the skin's friction defenses.

Tape the Trouble Spots

Getty Images

For extra protection, Dini recommends taping any spots where your shoes rub. Look for a high-quality adhesive bandage that can survive sweat. Using a stretch of tape that's about twice as long as the diameter of the toe you want to protect, fold one end of the tape so that you have a nonstick surface to place over the "danger zone," and then wrap the rest around your toe. Keep in mind that your feet will likely swell throughout the day, so avoid wrapping too tightly.

Drain the Fluid

When a blister appears, Turkel lances it with a sterile needle as soon as possible. "You don't want it to pop in your shoe," she says. Lancing right away will help relieve pressure and pain. But the procedure—and the potential for infection—should not be taken lightly. It is only safe to lance if the fluid inside the blister is clear, says Werner.

First prepare your skin by washing it with soap and water or swabbing it with rubbing alcohol. (If it's the end of the day, experts recommend soaking your feet in warm water and Epsom salts for 15 minutes beforehand.) Next, sterilize a needle by holding it in a flame until the tip turns red. Allow the needle to cool, then use it to gently make one small hole anywhere on the blister.

After draining the fluid, air the blister out overnight. Dress it with antibiotic ointment before wearing shoes in the morning. To relieve pressure, Werner recommends using a moleskin pad cut in the shape of a doughnut. (You can boost the pad's adhesive power with a solution called compound tincture of benzoin, sold in medical supply stores.) Beware of any signs of infection: redness and pain extending up the ankle and leg, or pus in the blister.

There's no need to drain a blister if you have some time off. "Blisters will heal on their own," says Werner. But, "If you must dance and perform the next day, lance it."

Rest and Pamper

Russ Ward via Unsplash

Don't forget the healing power of timely rest. "It's hard to find time in a demanding schedule," Werner admits, "but it can work miracles." She advises dancers to soak their feet in warm water and Epsom salts every night before bed—or at least on the weekend. Even when your feet are feeling fine, this can help reduce swelling. During very busy periods, it's also a good idea to minimize walking as much as possible after a long day of dancing.

Taking such precaution is worth it. As Turkel says, "You can't take a day off because your feet hurt. It's part of your job."

Larke Johnson in rehearsal. Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet

Marie and Franz have a new guest at their Christmas Eve party this year. Emma Lookatch and Larke Johnson, both dancers in the Adaptive Dance Program at Joffrey Academy of Dance: Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, are alternating in the new role of Worker Girl. It is a permanent part created specifically for students with disabilities in Christopher Wheeldon's version of The Nutcracker at The Joffrey Ballet.

Keep reading... Show less
Francisco Estevez, Courtesy Colorado Ballet Academy

When you're looking for a ballet program to take you to the next level, there are a lot of factors to consider. While it's tempting to look for the biggest name that will accept you, the savvy dancer knows that successful training has more to do with the attention and opportunities you'll get.

We put together a few of the most important things for dancers to look for in a summer or year-round training program, with the help of the experts at Colorado Ballet Academy:

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Ballet Austin Academy students practice priouette en dehors. Annie Marie Bloodgood, Courtesy Ballet Austin.

Michelle Martin, associate artistic director of Ballet Austin, says that pirouettes en dehors from fourth position allongé are full of "traps" for dancers. Whether you trained with a straight back leg or have never tried it before, Martin's analytical breakdown will help you master this basic but dazzling turn.

Keep reading... Show less
Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy US Prix de Ballet

The US Prix de Ballet is taking an unconventional approach to the ballet competition—by putting the competitors' health first. After a successful first year in 2018, the Prix is returning to San Diego, CA this February with an even more comprehensive lineup of wellness workshops and master classes, in addition, of course, to the high-level competition.

Though the talent is top-notch, the environment is friendly, says HARID Conservatory faculty member Victoria Schneider, who serves on US Prix de Ballet's elite panel of judges. "The wellbeing of the dancer is the main focus," says Schneider, who awarded three scholarships to HARID at last year's competition.

US Prix de Ballet was born after its founders traveled to the Japan Grand Prix International Ballet Competition in 2016. "The company ran every aspect of the competition with professionalism, dignity, honor and precision," says founder Neisha Hernandez. "We knew we wanted this level of experience for America."

Keep reading... Show less