Corns and calluses can be annoying, but your body actually forms them to protect sensitive skin. Corns and calluses are often confused with one another.

Corns generally occur at pressure points, typically the bottom of the feet and the sides of toes. They can be painful.

A hard corn is a small patch of thickened, dead skin with a central core. A soft corn has a much thinner surface and usually occurs between the 4th and 5th toes. A seed corn is a tiny, discrete callous that can be very tender if it’s on a weight-bearing part of the foot. Seed corns tend to occur on the bottom of the feet, and some doctors believe this condition is caused by plugged sweat ducts.

Calluses are thickenings of the outermost layer of the skin and are painless. They can develop on hands, feet, or anywhere there is repeated friction — even on a violinist’s chin. Like corns, calluses have several variants. The common callus usually occurs when there’s been a lot of rubbing against the hands or feet. A plantar callus is found on the bottom of the foot.

What Causes Corns and Calluses?

Some corns and calluses on the feet develop from an improper walking motion, but most are caused by ill-fitting shoes. High-heeled shoes are the worst offenders. They put pressure on the toes and make women four times as likely as men to have foot problems. Other risk factors for developing a corn or callus include foot deformities and wearing shoes or sandals without socks, which leads to friction on the feet.

Rubbing or pressure can cause either soft corns or plantar calluses. If you or your child develops a callus that has no clear source of pressure, have it looked at by a doctor since it could be a wart or caused by a foreign body, like a splinter, trapped under the skin. Feet spend most of their time in a closed, moist environment — ideal for breeding bacteria. Staph infections can start when bacteria enter corns through breaks in the skin and cause the infected corn to release fluid or pus.

What Are the Symptoms of Corns and Calluses?

Here are some ways to identify different types of corns and calluses:

  • A callus is a patch of compact, dead skin anywhere on the body which is subject to friction. There are different common names given to various types of calluses.
  • A hard corn is a compact patch of hard skin with a dense core, located on top of a toe or the outside of the little toe.
  • A soft corn is a reddened, tender area of skin, has a thin, smooth center, and is found between toes.
  • A seed corn is a plug-like circle of dead skin, often painful, on the heel or ball of the foot.
  • A plantar callus is a callus on the bottom or plantar surface of the foot.

Call Your Doctor about a Corn or Callus if:

  • You cut a corn or callus and cause it to bleed. The break in the skin invites infection.
  • A corn discharges pus or clear fluid, which means it’s infected or ulcerated. Both conditions require urgent medical attention.
  • You develop a corn and also have diabetes, heart disease, or other circulatory problems. You run a high risk of developing an infection.

How Do I Know If I Have a Corn or Callus?

To find out whether a hard patch of skin is a callus or a wart, your doctor will scrape some skin off the affected area. When the superficial skin is scraped off, warts bleed in a characteristic pattern. Calluses do not; they just reveal more dead skin. Warts are viral and require specific treatment. Most corns and calluses are corrected by a variety of measures, including a change in shoes, trimming of the calluses, and sometimes surgery.

What Are the Treatments for Corns and Calluses?

Most corns and calluses gradually disappear when the friction or pressure stops, although your doctor may shave the top of a callus to reduce the thickness. Properly positioned moleskin pads can help relieve pressure on a corn. Most foot doctors discourage the use of over-the-counter salicylic-acid corn remedies. When applied improperly, these corn “plasters” can create a chemical skin burn in healthy tissue around the corn and cause infections and ulcers (which is a hole through the skin) in patients with diabetes, poor circulation, or numbness in their feet.

Oral antibiotics generally clear up infected corns, but pus may have to be drained through a small incision.

Moisturizing creams may help soften the skin and remove cracked calluses. Apply the moisturizing cream to the callus and cover the area overnight with a plastic bag or a sock — but only if instructed to do so by your doctor. Then gently rub off as much of the callus as you can with a coarse towel or soft brush. Using a pumice stone first to rub off the dead skin from a callus after a bath or shower and then applying moisturizing cream can also be effective.

There are also stronger creams containing urea that might be more effective, but don’t use these unless recommended by your doctor. Don’t bother with hydrocortisone creams, which only help with rashes and itching and may not be needed for calluses.

You can consider surgery to remove a plantar callus, but there are no guarantees that the callus won’t come back. A conservative approach is best initially. Keep the feet dry and friction-free. Wear properly fitted shoes and cotton socks, not wool or synthetic fibers that might irritate the skin.

If a podiatrist or orthopedist thinks your corn or callus is caused by abnormal foot structure, walking motion, or hip rotation, orthopedic shoe inserts or surgery to correct foot deformities may help correct the problem.

How Can I Prevent Corns and Calluses?

Here are some suggestions for preventing corns and calluses:

  • To avoid corns and calluses on the feet, have both feet professionally measured at the shoe store and buy only properly fitting shoes.
  • Be sure both shoe width and length are correct — for each foot since feet may be slightly different sizes. Allow up to a half-inch between your longest toe and the front of the shoe. If you can’t wiggle your toes in your shoes, they’re too tight.
  • Shop for shoes at the end of the day when feet are typically most swollen.
  • Avoid shoes with sharply pointed toes and high heels. Women who must wear stylish shoes at work can take some of the pressure off their feet by walking to the office in well-fitting athletic shoes. Try to decrease heel height as much as possible.
  • Have shoes repaired regularly — or replace them. Worn soles give little protection from the shock of walking on hard surfaces and worn linings can chafe your skin and harbor bacteria.
  • Worn heels increase any uneven pressure on the heel bone. If the soles or heels of your shoes tend to wear unevenly, see an orthopedist or podiatrist about corrective shoes or insoles.
  • If you have hammertoes — toes that are buckled under — be sure that the shape of your shoes offers plenty of room to accommodate them.
  • Calluses can happen on hands, so wear protective gloves if you use tools.

 

Dr. Dang H. Vu, DPM is a Baltimore Podiatrist with more than 15 years of experience. He completed his residency at Sinai of Baltimore. He furthered his surgical expertise and now holds privileges at Northwest Hospital. He offers services from three Baltimore Locations in Reisterstown, Towson and in the Rotunda Building in Hampden. You can find directions and request an appointment on his website FamilyPodiatryofMD.com