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Is Wicking Wicked?

I was recently introduced to "wicking" blisters--putting material under the skin to drain the fluid. I am a certified Wilderness First Responder, but I couldn't recall any mention of "wicking" blisters in my training, and I didn't find any in the Wilderness Medical Institute's training book. I think it is a great way to get a very bad infection. What do you think?

Question:

I was recently introduced to “wicking” blisters–putting material under the skin to drain the fluid. I am a certified Wilderness First Responder, but I couldn’t recall any mention of “wicking” blisters in my training, and I didn’t find any in the Wilderness Medical Institute’s training book. I think it is a great way to get a very bad infection. What do you think?

Submitted by - Suzanne - Ocala, FL

Answer:

I have no data showing the use of “wicks” in blisters carries a significant rate of infection, but I too find the method suspect, especially if you’re in less-than-sanitary backcountry conditions. I have never taught that technique or used it myself.

I say wash the blistered site, slice a pretty big hole in the blister with a sterilized point, massage out the fluid, add a layer of antimicrobial ointment, primarily for lubrication, and place some sort of
patch over the drained bubble. If you keep it clean, the blister should heal within a week.

1 Comment

  1. Ron Perrier

    I am an MD. I hiked 1600 kilometers on the Camino de Santiago last year (along with thousands of others and blisters were almost universal. The wisdom there was similar to the last post and I found it worked extremely well. Using a sterile needle with any type of thread, pierce the blister through and through and leave the thread in place. Bandage or moleskin any way you want (I like to make a doughnut with the hole the size of the blister). The blister will remain drained.
    Obviously boots that fit properly, wearing double socks (a thin wicking sock like wigwam ultramax are great and thick socks containing some wool), using prophylaxis like duct tape, and stopping the instant you feel a hot spot and doing something about it, all help. I find most people buy boots or hiking shoes with too small a toe box causes a lot of problems and buy boots without taking along the sock system they regularly use are the most common issues.

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