Foot Corns and Calluses: How to Treat Them?

Foot corns and calluses are thickened areas of skin caused by friction and pressure. Corns occur on the top of the toes, outside of the 5th toe, and in the web spaces between the toes. Calluses occur on the soles and heels of the feet. Both of these cause pain and can interfere with the ability to stand, walk, and perform the activities of daily living. However, there are numerous home remedies for these conditions, and surgery is rarely needed. This article discusses the various ways you can treat corns and calluses.

Key takeaways:

Corns

Image of foot corn

Corns are small, circular areas of thickened skin on the top of the foot (dorsum). Corns form from friction and irritation, usually due to tight shoes. Corns are the body's protective reaction to this friction and irritation. Corns can be hard or soft.

  • Hard corns. Hard corns develop on the top of the toes or the lateral (outside) aspect of the 5th toe. They have a hard, firm center and are surrounded by softer skin.
  • Soft corns. Soft corns form between the toes, occurring where sweat accumulates, which causes the skin to become softer. Continuous moisture and shoe friction lead to a soft corn's development. They are white and grey with a soft, rubbery texture.

Calluses

Image of foot callus

A foot callus is a thickened area of yellow and flat skin that can vary in size and shape. A callus is caused by prolonged friction and pressure. Calluses develop in weight-bearing areas of the foot: the soles and heels. Abnormal walking patterns and foot abnormalities can predispose someone to develop calluses.

Causes of corns and calluses

Tight shoes are the main cause, but other issues can predispose someone to develop corns and calluses, including bony abnormalities like flat feet (pes planus) and hammer toes.

Certain occupations where people stand or walk a lot see a higher incidence of corns and calluses, including:

  • Hospitality servers
  • Retail workers
  • Health care workers

Furthermore, occupations that involve running and jumping have a high risk of developing corns and calluses, including athletes and dancers.

Symptoms

Both corns and calluses can cause pain and difficulty walking. Corns are more painful from pressure and touch than calluses.

Diagnosis

A physician makes a diagnosis by visual inspection noting the lesion's location, texture, color, and shape. In addition, they should ask about symptoms, occupation, and activities.

A plain X-ray should be done to rule out bone abnormalities.

Complications

The corns and calluses can continue to grow if left untreated. In addition, scratching can lead to a foot infection.

Treatment

When the cause of the pressure or friction is relieved, the corn and callus will often resolve independently. However, at other times, steps must be taken to facilitate the healing of the corn and callus.

Self-care for a corn or callus

Here is a list of possible self-treatment options to consider when having corns or calluses.

  1. Soaking. Soaking the foot and affected area for 10–15 minutes daily can soften and lead to healing.
  2. Exfoliation. An exfoliating device like a pumice stone or file can remove or reduce its size.
  3. Cushions and pads. Cushions and pads can limit the rubbing and friction to induce healing and reduce further growth. Donut-style pads work well with corns.
  4. Toe separators. For soft corns between the toes, a separator can be helpful.
  5. Moisturizing. Moisturizing cream or lotion can assist in removing the dead skin around the corn and callus.
  6. Over-the-counter topical medications. Salicylic acid is a general skin irritant that, after applied to a corn or callus, causes it to slough. It is available in gel or liquid form. The brand name is Compound W.
  7. Footwear. Wearing proper footwear can relieve pressure and friction. Try a different-sized or shaped shoe.
  8. Shoe inserts. Removing the insole and replacing it with prefabricated orthotics can help.
  9. Nail trimming. Trim your toenails properly.
  10. Ice. Applying ice for 10–15 minutes each day can decrease swelling and pain.
  11. Powder. Excess moisture can be absorbed with foot powder.

Medical care by a health care provider

  • Medications. Some topical medications are only available by prescription, including prescription-strength salicylic acid.
  • Custom orthotics. Your health care provider can take a mold of your foot or send you to a special lab where they take a mold. Either way, the factory produces the custom orthotic.

Surgical procedure

If all other treatments have failed, a surgical procedure should be considered. In this procedure, the corn or callus is numbed with xylocaine and trimmed using a surgical knife.

Foot corns and calluses are caused by friction — removing the source of friction can heal the corn and callus. Other times, there needs to be conservative self-treatment or treatment done by a medical provider. Rare cases require surgery.

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