Sunday, September 16, 2012
We receivd an email inquiry from Julie who is currently training for a marathon. She recently injured on of her little toes and wants to resume her training.
She explains. "I have had this blister now for a week. I had also tripped over a bike rack which bruised my toe as well. I am on antibiotics and they took X-rays to confirm my toe was not broken. It was not broken but very infected. I was training for a marathon and want to know if I can continue running or do I need to wait longer for it to heal."
As a sports medicine podiatrist the primary concern with a blister is of course to help the blister heal as quickly as possible so that the patient can resume marathon training without any significant loss of fitness.
The basic tenets of blister treatment involve the following:
1. Provide mechanical protection of the blister. This means to use any combination of reduced activity, shoe modification, padding, etc. to stop rubbing and irritating the wound. If you continue to apply shear forces and friction, the blister will take much longer to heal, and could even get worse.
2. Optimize a moist environment of the wound to facilitate healing. This means that you want to keep the wound properly hydrated. The wound has to be moist, but not too moist. If a blister is actively draining, the dressing should absorb the exudate to prevent the excess moisture form breaking the tissue down further. If the wound is too dry, then a dressing should be used that will add moisture sufficent to promote healing.
3. Reduce the bioburden of the wound. "Bioburden" is a term used by wound care specialists that refers to the well-know negative effects of bacteria colonizing a wound, or worse yet, infecting a wound. Your skin is covered in bacteria. This not a comment on hygiene; it is a natural state. Any open wound will quickly become colonized with bacteria as well. If there is an excessive amount of bacteria feeding in the wound, the wound healing process slows. Many wound care products are designed to impede the growth of bacteria or wash the bacteria away. But not all are created equal. Some commonly used wound-cleansing substances such as dilute bleach, hydrogen peroxide and povidone-iodine kill off bacteria, but unfortunately are also toxic to the cells trying to heal the wound at the base and edges of the blister.
Much worse than a "colonized wound" is an "infected wound." The difference is that an infected wound is one where the bacteria is actually directly damaging the tissue. This is the case described above.
It appears from the picture and description provided that this runner's toe has not been caused by the exceeding common friction from running shoes, but is in fact a traumatic injury, more likely causes by a direct blow when tripping over a bike rack.
When this kind of injury occurs two things can happen.
1. The toe (or at least on of the phalanx bones within the toe) can easily break.
2. The nail plate can become separated from the nail bed leading to a nasty infection.
This type of injury has to be treated much differently than a standard friction blister.
The first concern is to treat the infection. This might be accomplished through the administration of prescription oral antibiotics, drainage of the blister and removal of pus in a podiatrist's office, and perhaps, even remove of the nail plate. Deciding which of these are appropriate would require an in-person evaluation with a podiatrist.
The second concern is the possibility of fracture. Little toes get broken all the time with the kind of injury described. The reason this is so worrisome is that if one of the bones in the toe is broken, the infection in the skin and surrounding soft tissue could easily spread to the bone resulting in osteomyelitis- also known as a bone infection. Bone infections are serious and are the primary cause of amputation of toes.
Before returning to running this runner (and her doctor) would have to be certain that the toes wasn't broken and the infection was well on its way to healing. Once that has been accomplished, it would be necessary to have a podiatrist who treats runners often evaluate the runner's shoes and determine the best way to offload the toe so that it could continue to heal with any irritation. She should then be able to get back to training for her marathon.
Dr. Christopher Segler is sports medicine podiatrist who practices in San Francisco. He is an active runner and triathlete who is competing in 1 marathon and 4 Ironman triathlons in 2012. His practice is limited to active runners and triathletes. You can learn more about running injuries at www.DocOnTheRun.com and www.AnkleCenter.com