Why Do Monkey Bars Cause Blisters? (And How to Prevent Them)

Cartoon of Steve in white shirt with arms crossed.

The great American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan once said, “Behind every beautiful thing, there’s been some kind of pain.”

It sounds deep but I’m actually just using that as an intro to our topic today: monkey bars. 

Monkey bars are fun. 

Children love monkey bars and so do adults. 

But playing with them for some time may cause blisters. 

It’s like what Dylan said, sometimes, that thing that is beautiful that gives you joy will also give you pain. 

So, why do monkey bars cause pain?

Blisters happen due to friction. Playing with monkey bars enforces friction, especially when you play too long or too intensely. When playing on monkey bars, the top layer of your skin is pulled in the direction of your swing while the lower layers are pulled in the opposite direction by the bones. The shear force introduces a rip that is then filled with clear fluid. Make sure to treat the blisters right away because they could get infected. 

What Are Blisters?

Hands close up on bars

Blisters are raised skin that wraps a pocket of fluid. 

There are different causes of blisters:

  • Friction
  • Burns
  • Frostbite
  • Hand-foot-and-mouth disease
  • Impetigo
  • Insect bites
  • Sunburn
  • Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome

Since we are talking about monkey bar blisters, let’s focus on friction blisters.

Let’s be technical for a bit:

A blister happens when your hand moves or swings around the bar because of “shear force” occurring between the layers of your skin. 

Shear means that the layers of skin are being pulled from different directions. 

The skin has three main layers:

  • Epidermis
  • Dermis 
  • Hypodermis

When you swing on the monkey bars, the epidermis goes one way while the lower layers are pulled in the opposite direction by the bones. 

Because of that shear force, the layers of the skin are pulled apart, which explains the raised piece of skin or small gap. 

That gap paves the way for fluid to get into. 

The clear liquid, which is called plasma, actually helps with the healing process. 

It can be quite painful. 

And hand blisters are such a nuisance because we use our hands for many things: writing, eating, typing, playing, and working, among many others. 

Why Do Monkey Bars Hurt Hands?

Friction is the main reason why monkey bars cause blisters. 

They don’t appear immediately after using the monkey bars. 

It depends on the situation. 

They occur during an extended time on the monkey bars. 

Intense friction may also result in blisters even when the person was only on the monkey bars for a short period. 

Intense friction may be due to an adult’s weight or children roughhousing on the equipment. 

The monkey bars are either made of metal or wood, both truly hard materials. 

Heat could also exacerbate the appearance of blisters. 

How To Treat Blisters

Blisters are closed wounds. 

And as such, they should be treated. 

This cannot be emphasized enough: DO NOT POP YOUR BLISTER!

It can be quite enticing since it looks like a small bubble just waiting to be popped. 

However, the plasma, which is kind of your blood without the red blood cells, helps in the healing of the skin. 

When you drain the water from the blister, you leave the wound without a cushion and the healing process is slowed down. 

An opening also leaves the wound vulnerable to bacteria that may cause infection. 

Here are some of the things you could do to ensure the blister will not be infected:

Stop Playing Until the Wound Heals

When you notice blisters forming in your hands or children’s hands, it’s time to step away from the monkey bars. 

But the truth is, blisters aren’t immediately noticed. 

The tear between the skin layers is not always visible to the eyes. 

It only becomes visible when it is filled with plasma. 

And the tear or skin gap doesn’t get filled with the liquid until two hours later. 

Wash the Wound

Wash your entire hand with antibacterial soap. 

It doesn’t normally sting, especially if the blister is still closed. 

When it has popped, washing it may be a bit painful. 

But it is necessary because you don’t want it to be infected. 

Cut Off Dead Skin

If there is dead skin surrounding the blister, cut it off slowly with nail clippers. 

Don’t pull it out as it may be the reason the blister pops. 

Treat With Antibiotic Cream and Cover

Apply an antibiotic cream or ointment to the infected area. 

There are over-the-counter ointments specifically for this purpose: Bacitracin and Neosporin are popular choices. 

Cover it with a bandage. 

Clean the wound every day and redress it until it is completely healed. 

You also need to stop playing in the monkey bars until the blisters are gone. 

How To Prevent Blisters When Playing on Monkey Bars

Child on monkey bars with parent holding them

Blisters shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying the monkey bars. 

This type of play equipment is fun and good for your health as it compels you to be active. 

Here are some tips to prevent blisters:

1. Proper Hand Positioning

It sounds weird that you have to think about your positioning when playing in a playground, but it has to be that way if you don’t want to suffer the pain of having blisters. 

So, how should you position your hands on the monkey bars?

  1. Grip the bar with your entire hands rather than just using your palms and some fingers. This will help distribute the pressure on your skin and reduce friction. 
  2. Use a thumb-over grip, which means you need to wrap your thumb over the bar. It allows you to have a better grip on the bar while also encouraging stability. 
  3. Adjust your grip after taking a swing or before taking another one. 

2. Wear Gloves

You can either wear gloves or a hand wrap to protect the skin of your hands. 

This may not be a popular tip as people, especially children, just want to have fun in the playground and not take it seriously. 

Having gloves or wrap on your hands may also make it harder to have a strong grip on the bars since you can’t feel them. 

3. Don’t Play Too Long on the Monkey Bars

You have to know when to stop playing on the equipment to preserve your hands. 

Just consider that an extended time on the monkey bars may result in a week’s absence when you get blisters. 

4. Don’t Play Too Hard

Instense playing may result in blisters even when you are on the monkey bar for just a short period. 

Blisters FAQs

Many have raised the following questions about hand blisters from playing the monkey bars and we have the answers. 

How long will a blister take to heal?

It can heal within three to seven days. However, you need to take time off the monkey bars to ensure the blister won’t pop or get infected. With so many hands using the monkey bars, the equipment has become a haven for germs and bacteria. 

What if the blister has blood instead of clear fluid?

That is fine. It’s not a cause for concern. Remember that the clear fluid is plasma, which is essentially blood without the coloring brought about by the red blood cells. 

What if the blister is filled with yellow pus?

The blister is likely infected and you should see a doctor. 

When should you see a doctor?

Consult a physician when you have pus in your blister. Also, if the blister is so big that it is hard to use your hands, you may need to see a doctor so they could drain the fluid. 

Final Thoughts

INFOGRAPHIC Answering the Question Why Do Monkey Bars Cause Blisters
Click infographic to enlarge.

Playing on the monkey bars can be fun. 

But playing too much and too intensely can be painful as it can result in blisters. 

Blisters are not dangerous but they are annoying since they could hinder how regularly you use your hands. 

They may also force you to take a break from playing on the monkey bars.

Once you notice you have blisters, wash and dress them with ointment and bandage right away. 

You don’t want them to get infected. 

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