Corns and calluses are common skin problems that are characterized by a buildup of hard, thick skin, usually on your feet. Corns and calluses are particularly common on your toes, and they are caused by prolonged pressure or friction on your skin. Though not life-threatening health problems, corns and calluses may cause pain and disability when the buildup of skin gets too thick or causes pressure on sensitive parts of your foot. Thick, hard skin can occur on any part of your foot.
A corn is thickened skin on the top or sides of your toes, while a callus is thickened skin on the soles of your feet. The skin thickening that characterizes these feet problems is a protective reaction by your body to avoid painful blisters. Corns that manifest on the tops or ends of your toes are called heloma durum (hard corns), and corns that develop between your toes are called heloma molle (soft corns).
Common locations for hard corns on your toes include your first toe joint, or proximal interphalangeal joint, and the ends of your toes. Soft corns may develop between any of your toes and are caused by shoes that pinch your forefoot. Soft corns are seen more often in people who wear shoes with tapering toe boxes. Tapering toe boxes force the normal roundness of your forefoot into an unnatural triangular shape.
The skin beneath your metatarsal heads is among the most common locations for calluses. Calluses may also form around and/or under your heel. In rare instances, calluses may form in your foot arch. Arch calluses are usually associated with extreme foot deformities.
Causes and Symptoms
Pressure from shoes or the ground on your feet is the most common reason that hard, thick skin develops. Factors that may contribute to this health problem include:
- Ill-fitting shoes or socks
- Sock bunching or socks that possess seams near your toes
- Prolonged physical labor
- Certain athletic events that place significant stress on your feet
Common signs and symptoms associated with corns and calluses include:
- Areas of thick and hardened skin
- Flaky and dry skin
- Waxy skin
- A hardened, elevated skin bump
- Pain or tenderness under your skin
Obtaining and using appropriate shoes along with manual therapies that reduce your skin thickening are among the most common and effective conservative strategies for treating your corns and calluses. Consider using a pumice stone to reduce your corns or calluses after your feet have been bathed or soaked. Over-the-counter acid plasters are also helpful in treating your corns and calluses, although they should be used with extreme caution, as they contain acid that is capable of damaging normal tissue surrounding your corns or calluses.
You should avoid using acid plasters if you have diabetes, nerve-related conditions, and/or poor circulation because you may be unable to feel the acid damaging your skin.
See your podiatrist for treatment if manual reduction of your skin thickening and a proper shoe fit have not resolved your problem.
Dr. Ray McClanahan, DPM, NW Foot & Ankle