Corns And Calluses On The Foot: What To Do

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Callused hands are often considered to be the symbol of hard work, but they’re more than just a sign of good virtue.

They can be an annoying nuisance or, at worst, a medical condition that requires attention. This is especially true when they develop alongside corns on your feet.

corn between toes

By Richard Huber (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 licence)

What are calluses and corns? How can you tell if they’re dangerous or harmless? How can you prevent their growth?

Let’s dive into all that and more.

What are Corns and Calluses?


Corns and calluses are areas on the skin that appear due to friction or pressure. They may be painful or exhibit no feeling at all. They occur as a way for the skin to protect itself against repeated rubbing and pressure.

You will usually notice calluses and corns appearing on the feet and hands after learning a new instrument, not wearing shoes, or performing other activities that encourage your body to build a defense against repeated, surface-level irritation.

Corns vs. Calluses

While they are both areas of thickened skin, there are a few differences between corns and calluses.

Calluses are parts of skin that have become tough because of pressure, friction, or irritation. They are usually more yellow or pale compared to the area of skin surrounding it. They will feel lumpy, and you will feel less sensitive in the area, simply because the skin is thicker.

While calluses are often painless, there is a type of callus that is located deep in the skin. It is commonly referred to as a pressure callus, usually found on the bottom of the foot. Attempting to remove this callus on your own will be very painful and requires professional treatment.

Corns, on the other hand, are caused by friction over bony areas. As such, corns generally appear on top of toe joints. Unlike calluses, corns have a defined center, and they can be painful to the touch if they pass along a nerve.

Types of Corns

The College of Podiatry states that there are five types of corns, the most common of which are soft corns and hard corns.

Hard Corns

This type of corn is usually no larger than the size of a small pea. They typically appear within an already thickened area of skin or within a callus.

Soft Corns

These develop like hard corns – only, hard corns are whitish and rubbery. You will usually find this type of corn between toes, as they typically appear between pockets of skin that retain moisture.

Seed Corns

Seed corns are small corns that often appear in clusters. They are usually painless.

callus on big toe

By Marionette (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 licence)

Vascular Corns

Vascular corns have nerve fibers and blood vessels inside of them. These corns will be painful to the touch and will bleed heavily if cut.

Fibrous Corns

This type usually develops if the corns have been present for a long time and have attached themselves to deeper tissues. Because of their placement, they can be painful.

Signs and Symptoms

Corns and calluses both have similar signs and symptoms, as their main difference is the shape that they take.

Here are some signs and symptoms that accompany corns and calluses:

  • A raised bump on the skin, either flat or circular.
  • Thickened skin that is rough to the touch.
  • Flaky, dry, or waxy skin.
  • The part of the skin feels tender, if not painful.

What Causes Corns and Calluses?

What causes corns on your toes and hands? And what about calluses?

Corns and calluses are caused by similar problems. Whether a corn or a callus will develop depends on which part of the skin is affected; corns tend to occur over bony areas, while calluses develop on flat patches of skin.

Here are some causes of corns and calluses:

Repeated Friction

Calluses and corns occur mainly due to repeated friction on the skin.

If you do engage in activities such as walking, jogging, learning an instrument, or even writing, chances are you will get calluses on your feet and hands.

pressure callus

Ill-Fitting Shoes

Shoes that rub against your feet are very likely to create calluses and corns. Because of this, you are most likely to develop a callus on your big toe, since this area sees the most contact with outside pressures.

Additionally, new shoes or shoes that haven’t been broken in will almost always result in a callus if you don’t wear socks or padding. High heeled shoes also tend to produce calluses and corns because of their shape.

On the other hand, shoes that are too loose may also cause calluses, since you will have to move in an unnatural way to keep the shoe on your foot.

Ill-Fitting Socks

Socks that do not fit well can place you at risk for developing corns and calluses.

Socks too small will expose your skin, making it susceptible to friction. Socks that are too loose may bunch up in places, causing it to rub against your skin.

Older Age

Apart from other external factors, old age will put you at risk for calluses and corns. As we age, there is less fatty tissue in the skin, which means that there is less natural padding.

Older people also retain less moisture in their skin, putting them at higher risk of irritation due to friction.

Other Deformities

Existing problems, like bunions and hammertoe, put you at a higher risk of developing calluses and corns. If you have underlying causes, your footwear may not be giving you adequate support.

Home Remedies

Corns and calluses often aren’t a reason to visit the doctor. If your corn or callus isn’t painful to the touch, and you do not have diabetes, you can treat them yourself.

How to Treat Corns

According to Healthline, there are two main treatments to foot corns.

You can either file away the corn or use corn pads. Both will slowly remove your foot corn.

File Away the Corn

If you choose to file away the corn, do the following steps:

  1. Soak your feet in warm water to soften the skin. Soak the area for about ten minutes. You can also add Epsom salts for added benefits. If you’re pressed for time, you can take a bath as a substitute for this step.
  2. Pat your feet dry with a clean towel. Then, moisturize the skin. There are also special types of lotions for the hands and feet that are formulated with corn and callus prevention in mind.
  3. Once the skin is softened enough, you may begin filing away at the corn. Pumice stones are a slightly rough stone that can be used to rub away at tough spots of the skin. They work much like a nail file. Dip the stone in warm water, and gently file away the corn or callus using a circular motion.

medicated corn pads

If you choose to file away foot corns, don’t force it if the skin is too tough. If you force it, you’re at risk of breaking the skin and causing bleeding.

Instead, try soaking the foot again the next day, and keep filing in short bursts until it disappears.

Use Corn Pads or Caps

If you’re committed to activities that will irritate corns, such as wearing the same pair of shoes or holding a tool at work, you can use corn pads.

Corn pads are a bandage that covers up the corn, and will eventually dry up the corn. Here are some steps to take:

  1. Wash your feet to make sure they’re clean. Be sure to pat them dry with a clean cloth.
  2. Apply castor oil. Castor oil is a vegetable-based oil that is great for moisturizing your skin.
  3. Cover the corn with a corn pad.
  4. Remember that castor oil can stain clothing; only use socks that you don’t mind staining.

Form corn pads can also double as padding, so as to shield the corn from additional friction.

Medicated corn pads, on the other hand, usually contain salicylic acid that will soften the corn.

How to Treat Calluses

There a few ways to treat calluses, most of them involving moisturizing the skin and filing away at the thickened skin.

You can also opt to soften the skin without filing it; chances are, your callus will go away on its own.

Here are some treatments you can do to help speed up the removal of your callus.

Callus Pads

Much like corn pads, callus pads are applied on top of a callus. Callus pads are flatter and tend to take the shape of the underside of the foot.

Medicated callus pads, however, may be too aggressive, as they can irritate and break the skin.

what causes corn son your toes

By Andrew Bossi (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 licence)

Baking Soda and Lemon Juice Soak

These two ingredients are great for dissolving calluses.

Simply soak your foot in two to three tablespoons of lemon juice, then add some baking soda after a few minutes.

Epsom Salt

Epsom salt is a great exfoliator that can help soften skin. With enough use, it can help calluses peel off on their own.

Simply mix two to three tablespoons in warm water, and soak the affected area.

This video has more information on corns and calluses.

Preventing Corns and Calluses

Corns and calluses can be a big problem. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent each.

Preventing Corns

Proper Hygiene

Keeping your feet clean and free of moisture is a great way to avoid corns.

Make sure that you are always using a clean pair of socks, and that your shoes are regularly cleaned.

Make Sure Your Feet Are Dry

Wet or even damp skin increases friction, and also raises the chances of bacteria affecting you. To prevent corns from occurring, make sure that your feet are dry before putting on socks and shoes.

It also won’t hurt to give your feet a break every now and then by removing shoes whenever possible.

Wear Shoes That Fit Comfortably

If your footwear is too loose, too tight, or is not cushioned enough, you raise your chances of developing corns.

Ensuring that your footwear is comfortable will lessen the chances of corns developing.

Trim Your Toenails

Toenails that are too long will push your toe against your shoe.

Untrimmed toenails are a common cause of corns, as they may produce friction. As such, be sure to keep them trimmed neatly.

Preventing Calluses

Change shoes regularly

Since the main cause of calluses is pressure, another good way to avoid calluses is changing your footwear regularly.

Switching shoes every day means that you aren’t putting pressure on the same areas of your feet every day, lessening the chances of calluses.

Wear Padding

Make sure that your feet are adequately padded whenever you put on footwear. Breathable cotton socks are a great way to pad your feet.

For those who need extra support, you can always fit your shoes with extra padding to better ensure your comfort. Your doctor may also prescribe custom-made padding for extreme cases.

Keep Your Skin Moisturized

Moisturized skin will produce less friction, which lessens the chance of forming calluses and corns.

Applying lotions or creams, as well as bathing with moisturizing soaps, can be great for your skin.

This video goes into more detail on preventing calluses.

When to See Your Doctor

Calluses and corns are usually minor problems that you can ignore. However, you should seek professional care if you have circulatory problems, diabetes, fragile skin, or any condition that puts you at higher risk for complications.

You should also contact a physician if your corn or callus is painful, or is causing significant problems in your day to day life.

If your corn or callus begins to bleed or develop open sores, contact a physician immediately. Chances are, your callus or corn has become infected and you will need to be prescribed medication to get rid of the infection.

If you are a healthy individual, you can always try to treat corns and calluses yourself – so long as they aren’t painful.

However, it’s best to seek professional help if none of your treatments are working after three weeks.

Treatments

A podiatrist, or a foot doctor, will be well equipped to resolve the corns and calluses on your feet. Treatment often begins with your doctor examining your foot.

Your doctor may ask about your lifestyle, and if there are any underlying causes to your corns and calluses. Your doctor may also ask to see your footwear.

Your doctor will determine if there is an infection. If there is, they will prescribe you antibiotics to eradicate the infection before continuing with treatment.

When an infection has cleared, your doctor will remove some of the hard skin surrounding the corn or callus.

They will then apply a patch with 40% salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a standard treatment for the removal of corns and calluses. It works by dissolving the keratin that makes up the corn, essentially drying it out.

Your doctor may apply this directly on the skin using a dropper. After the acid has done its job (after several applications), the skin will turn white and can be filed away without any pain.

Alternatively, your doctor may prescribe corn pads with concentrated salicylic acid. Your doctor will also determine how best to avoid corn and calluses in the future. In severe cases, this may include prescribing custom-made padded inserts.

Finally, your doctor will try to determine if any bone deformity is the underlying cause for corns and calluses. If they suspect that this is the case, your doctor may recommend an x-ray.

Should a bone deformity be the cause of repeated calluses and corns, you may need to undergo surgery to fix the problem entirely.

foam corn pads

Conclusion

While they are annoying and painful, corn and calluses are rarely a cause for greater concern.

Just be sure to apply a gentle touch when treating them, and contact a physician if necessary.

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