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Calluses and Corns

Topic Overview

What are calluses and corns?

Calluses and corns are areas of thick skin caused by pressure or friction. They may cause pain when you walk or wear shoes.

Calluses usually form on your hands or feet. They usually don't need treatment.

Corns have an inner core that can be soft or hard. Soft corns are found between your toes. Hard corns may form on the tops of your toes. Corns caused by poorly fitting shoes will often go away with the right size shoe.

See pictures of calluses and hard and soft corns.

What causes calluses and corns?

Calluses and corns are caused by repeated pressure or friction on an area of skin. The pressure causes the skin to die and form a hard, protective surface. A soft corn is formed in the same way, except that when sweat is trapped where the corn develops, the hard core softens. This typically occurs between toes. Calluses and corns are not caused by a virus and are not contagious.

Repeated handling of an object that puts pressure on the hand, such as tools (gardening hoe or hammer) or sports equipment (tennis racquet), typically causes calluses on the hands.

Calluses and corns on the feet are often caused by pressure from footwear. Walking barefoot also causes calluses.

Calluses and corns often form on bunions, hammer, claw, or mallet toes, or on the bumps caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Calluses and corns on the feet may also be caused by repeated pressure due to sports (such as a callus on the bottom of a runner's foot), an odd way of walking (abnormal gait), or a bone structure, such as flat feet or bone spurs (small, bony growths that form along joints).

What are the symptoms?

You can tell you have a corn or callus by the way it looks. A callus is hard, dry, and thick, and it may appear grayish or yellowish. It may be less sensitive to the touch than surrounding skin, and it may feel bumpy. A hard corn is also firm and thick. It may have a soft yellow ring with a gray center. A soft corn looks like an open sore.

Calluses and corns often are not painful, but they can cause pain when you are walking or wearing shoes. And they may make it hard for your feet to fit in your shoes. Any type of pressure applied to the callus or corn, such as squeezing it, can also cause pain.

How are calluses and corns diagnosed?

Your doctor will look at the calluses or corns that are causing problems for you. He or she may also ask you questions about your work, your hobbies, or the types of shoes you wear. An X-ray of the foot may be done if your doctor suspects a problem with the bones.

How are they treated?

Calluses and corns do not need treatment unless they cause pain. If they do cause pain, you can ease the pain by:

  • Wearing shoes that fit well and are roomy, with wide and deep toe boxes (the area that surrounds the toes).
    • A wider toe box keeps the toes from pressing against each other, relieving pressure on soft corns.
    • A deeper toe box keeps the toes from pressing against the top of the shoe, relieving pressure on hard corns.
  • Using protective padding while your foot heals, such as:

Other things you can try include:

  • Reducing the size of the callus or corn by soaking your callus or corn in warm water and then using a pumice stone to lightly wear away the dead skin. Never cut the corn or callus yourself, especially if you have diabetes or other conditions that cause circulatory problems or numbness.
  • Using salicylic acid to soften the callus or corn. You can then rub the callus or corn off with a pumice stone. Some doctors advise against using salicylic acid because it can damage surrounding skin. If you use salicylic acid, be sure to apply it only to the callus or corn and not to the surrounding skin. And never use salicylic acid if you have diabetes or other conditions that cause circulatory problems or numbness.
  • Having your doctor pare (trim) the callus or corn with a small knife. Your doctor can do this in his or her office.

If you keep having problems with calluses or corns, or your problem is severe, your doctor may have you see a foot specialist (a podiatrist). You may be fitted for orthotic inserts or metatarsal bar inserts for your shoes to distribute your weight more evenly over the ball of your foot. Athletes who run a lot may wear orthotic shoe inserts for the same purpose.

Surgery is rarely used to treat calluses or corns. But if a bone structure (such as a hammer toe or bunion) is causing a callus or corn, surgery can be used to change or remove the bone structure. This is used only if other treatment has failed.

If you have diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, peripheral neuropathy, or other conditions that cause circulatory problems or numbness, talk to your doctor before you try any treatment for calluses or corns.

How can calluses and corns be prevented?

Calluses and corns can be prevented by reducing or eliminating pressure on the skin.

Calluses on your hands usually can be prevented by wearing gloves to protect your hands, such as when gardening or lifting weights. Calluses on your feet can usually be prevented by wearing shoes and socks that fit well.

Corns on your feet can usually be prevented by wearing shoes that have a wider toe box. So can getting both feet measured by a shoe store clerk before buying a pair of shoes.

  • Wear shoes that fit well.
  • Wear gloves while using a tool such as a garden spade or rake. If you expose other parts of your body to friction, wear appropriate padding. For example, if you are on your knees laying carpet, wear knee pads.

The way you walk can be affected by the bones in your feet or even tight calf muscles. If so, a podiatrist may be able to help you make changes that can prevent foot problems like calluses and corns.

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  Foot Problems: Finding the Right Shoes

Other Places To Get Help

Organization

American Podiatric Medical Association
Web Address: www.apma.org

References

Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and American Academy of Pediatrics (2010). Corns and calluses. In JF Sarwark, ed., Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 4th ed., pp. 781–784. Rosemont, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  • Basler RSW (2010). Sports medicine dermatology. In JC Hall et al., eds., Sauer's Manual of Skin Diseases, 10th ed., pp. 490–498. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Scardina RJ, Lee SM (2008). Corns. In WR Frontera et al., eds., Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2nd ed., pp. 441–443. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Barry L. Scurran, DPM - Podiatry and Podiatric Surgery
Current as of March 26, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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