The blister dilemma and how to care for them
You row, therefore blisters are likely to be part of your life. Blister care is one thing that inevitably comes into a rower’s conversation. Advice about care is extensive, especially on the internet.
While this information should never replace consultation with a doctor if necessary, useful rowing ‘hacks’ and blister tips and tricks abound. World Rowing takes a closer look at some popular online sources.
Care and treatment
Raf Wyatt authored an informative piece for Rowperfect UK in 2011 called 6 Ways to Treat Rowing Blisters. Wyatt lays out methods for dealing with six types of blister:
1) Blister raised and filled with fluid: drain it and protect it
2) Top layer of skin torn / rubbed away: wash with hot soapy water
3) Red / inflamed skin around blister: seek medical advice if “angry” look persists
4) Cracked raw skin: apply antiseptic cream / Vaseline and protect it
5) New skin formed but old skin cracked around edges: trim ragged edges
6) Hard / raised callus after blister heals: soak in water and smooth skin with pumice
A 2014 article entitled Swiss Cheese Hands: the care and feeding of rowing blisters penned by Adam Bruce for US-based Row2k.com offers similar practical step-by-step advice along with an additional ‘MiniHack’.
Bruce draws on his own experiences with blisters in another sport (gymnastics) when he suggests something his gymnastics coach had shown him that can protect a rowers hand and keep the handle from getting sticky from tape residue: the tape grip. “A tape grip resolves the issue of traditionally wrapping your hand with tape,” he writes. This is achieved “by covering up the tackiness of the tape while providing a layer of protection between your blister and the oar.” http://www.row2k.com/features/789/Swiss-Cheese-Hands--the-care-and-feeding-of-rowing-blisters/
USRowing provides a 2013 article about blisters on their website called Treat Your Blisters to Avoid Season Interruptions from Infection. Written by Monica Worsley, the piece has a short Q & A section addressing some common questions regarding blister care with Wade Soenksen, the then assistant athletic trainer at the University of Washington, USA. http://archive.usrowing.org/news/details/13-01-24/Treat_Your_Blisters_to_Avoid_Season_Interruptions_from_Infection.aspx
Worst case complications
Along with some very good blister popping how-to advice, coach/coxswain Kayleigh Durm delves into some of those less savoury worst case complications in her Ready All Row article titled Rowing Blisters 101. “MRSA [Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus]. Sepsis. Cellulitis. Leptospirosis. All of these are some of the potential consequences of bacteria coming in contact with your open wounds,” she writes. https://readyallrow.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/rowing-blisters-101/
Vincent Triot of the Aviron Club du Lac d’Aiguebelette in France, has compiled a short document outlining blister care, treatment and prevention in French. In his article titled Les Ampoules (cloques…), Triot points out that blister sores are “made worse by poor hygiene, the cleanliness of the (training) environment and general (athlete) fatigue.” http://avironaiguebelette.fr/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Les-Ampoules.pdf
Ultimately, the best defence is a good offence. Preventing blisters themselves may be an impossible goal, but it is possible to minimise their severity as well as the risk of infections. Good rowing hygiene is one offensive tactic everyone agrees is well worth the effort to implement in your daily routine.
The website WikiHow has some step-by-step guides for dealing with rowing blisters on their page titled WikiHow to Heal Blisters from Rowing. Citing 21 external links from which their suggestions are drawn, they offer five steps for prevention:
1) Proper handle grip: “maintain a loose, relaxed grip.”
2) Clean your oars: “scrub down the oar handles after every workout.”
3) Wear non-slip gloves: “if you’re comfortable rowing in gloves.”
4) Tape hands: WikiHow suggests duct tape, but many rowers use medical or vinyl (electrical) tape
5) Toughen up skin: “be patient.”
Toughness takes time
The final point is echoed in most advice about blister prevention. Oar and ergometer manufacturer Concept2 has this to say about toughening up the hands on their page Getting Comfortable on the Indoor Rower: “Once your hands are callused, they should bother you less than when you first started… Even with calluses be careful about suddenly increasing the duration of your rows … The key is to increase your rowing time gradually.” This advice is equally applicable on the water as on the ergometer. http://www.concept2.com/indoor-rowers/training/tips-and-general-info/getting-comfortable
A 2003 Row2k.com post entitled When Bad Blisters Happen to Good People, provides a simple overview of what blisters are along with some basic care: “Blisters are in no way a reflection of a rower’s toughness. Some of the toughest rowers I’ve ever had the honour to work with could not so much as look at an erg without their hands turning to hamburger. Blisters just happened to them”. http://www.row2k.com/columns/119/When-Bad-Blisters-Happen-to-Good-People/#.UtPrJZ5dV8E>
Know when to see your doctor
Kayleigh Durm of Ready All Row states: “It’s important for you to pay attention to any changes in the blisters themselves, the skin around the blisters, and most importantly, your overall health. If something looks or feels ‘off’, don’t just suck it up – go to your local 24-hour urgent care facility and get someone to look at you.”