Calluses and Corns

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Calluses and Corns

Topic Overview

What are calluses and corns?

Calluses and corns are areas of thick, hardened, dead skin. They form to protect the skin and structures under the skin from pressure, friction, and injury. They may appear grayish or yellowish, be less sensitive to the touch than surrounding skin, and feel bumpy. Calluses on the hands and feet of an active person are normal. Calluses and corns become a problem when they grow large enough to cause pain.

  • Calluses generally form on the hands or feet, although they may form wherever there is pressure on the skin, such as on the knees or elbows.
    • Calluses on the hands generally form at the base of the fingers. They usually are not painful and may be useful. For example, a carpenter might develop calluses that protect his or her hands from scrapes and cuts while working. A tennis player might develop calluses on the palm that protect his or her hand from the pressure and friction of handling a tennis racquet.
    • Calluses on the feet generally form on the ball of the foot, the heel, and the underside of the big toe. They often form where the foot and the beginning of the toe meet (under the end of the metatarsal bone).
  • Corns generally are found where toes rub together. Corns have an inner core that can be soft or hard. A soft corn is found between toes (usually the fourth and fifth toes). A hard corn is often found over a bony part of a toe (usually the fifth toe).

See pictures of calluses and hard and soft corns.

What causes calluses and corns?

Calluses and corns are caused over a period of time 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 perspiration is trapped where the corn develops, the hard core softens. This generally 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.

  • Tight shoes squeeze the foot.
  • High-heeled shoes squeeze the front part of the foot.
  • Loose shoes may cause your foot to slide and rub against the shoe.
  • Shoes with a thin sole can create more pressure on the ball of the foot when walking than do thicker-soled shoes.
  • Wearing sandals and shoes without socks can lead to increased friction.
  • The foot may rub against a seam or stitch inside the shoe.
  • Socks that don't fit may result in pressure where a sock bunches up.

Walking barefoot also causes calluses.

Calluses and corns often form on the bumps caused by rheumatoid arthritis or on bunions or hammer, claw, or mallet toes. 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 grey centre. 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?

Calluses and corns generally are diagnosed during a physical examination. Your doctor 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?

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.

Calluses and corns do not need treatment unless they cause pain. If they do cause pain, the treatment goal is to remove the pressure or friction that is causing the callus or corn, to give it time to heal. This is done by wearing footwear that fits properly and using doughnut-shaped pads (such as moleskin) or other protective padding to cushion the callus or corn. Some other types of padding include toe separators, toe crest pads, and toe caps and toe sleeves. Also, the callus or corn can be softened and the dead skin can be removed by using products such as salicylic acid.

Your doctor may use a small knife to pare (trim) the callus or corn. You may reduce the size of the callus or corn yourself by soaking your foot in warm water and then using a pumice stone to rub the dead skin away. Never cut the corn or callus yourself, especially if you have diabetes or other conditions that cause circulatory problems or numbness. In some cases, surgery may be done to remove the callus or corn or to change the bone structure beneath the callus or corn.

How common are calluses and corns?

Most people get calluses and corns. They are seen more frequently in people who have bony feet and in women, probably because women often wear shoes that create friction on the feet, such as high-heeled or thin-soled shoes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about calluses and corns:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Living with calluses and corns:

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  Foot problems: Finding the right shoes

Symptoms

You can tell you have a callus or corn by the way it looks. A callus is hard, dry, and thick and may appear grayish or yellowish. It may be less sensitive to your 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 grey centre. A soft corn looks like an open sore.

Calluses and corns often are not painful, but they can cause pain while you are walking or wearing shoes, and they may make it hard for your feet to fit in your shoes. Pressing or squeezing the callus or corn may also cause pain.

See pictures of calluses and hard and soft corns.

A callus or corn may be confused with a wart. Warts are generally tender and painful when pinched side to side, whereas calluses and corns can be painful when pressing directly on them. See pictures of types of warts similar to calluses and corns. For more information, see the topic Warts and Plantar Warts.

Other conditions that can look like a callus or a corn include:

Examinations and Tests

Calluses and corns generally are diagnosed during a physical examination. If the calluses or corns are on your feet, you will be asked to take off your shoes and socks so your feet can be examined. If you have calluses on another part of your body, such as your knee or elbow, your doctor will look at those areas also.

Your doctor may also ask you about your work, hobbies, or shoes. If your doctor suspects a problem with the bones of the foot, he or she might do an X-ray of your foot.

If a callus or corn is not located over a bony part of the foot or a pressure point is not obvious, your doctor may look for another cause, such as skin cancer, or may try to find a genetic cause.

If you have diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, peripheral neuropathy, or other conditions that cause circulatory problems or numbness, tell your doctor. These diseases affect your treatment options.

Treatment Overview

Calluses or corns usually do not need treatment unless they cause pain. If they do cause pain, the treatment goal is to remove the pressure or friction that is causing the callus or corn, to give it time to heal. Initial treatment generally involves things you can do at home. These include carefully choosing your footwear, using a pumice stone, and using over-the-counter (non-prescription) salicylic acid products.

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

Depending on the location of the callus or corn and on other conditions that you may have, such as diabetes, you have several treatment options. You can:

  • Have your doctor pare (trim) the callus or corn with a small knife. Your doctor can do this in his or her office.
  • Reduce the size of the callus or corn yourself 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.
  • Wear 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. Thicker soles can help relieve pressure on calluses when you are walking. For more information, see:
    Click here to view an Actionset. Foot problems: Finding the right shoes.
  • Use protective padding such as moleskin or orthotic shoe inserts to cushion the callus or corn or to hold the foot and toes in a more comfortable position to prevent rubbing. Your doctor can help you position padding on your feet or in your shoes.
  • Use 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.
  • Use 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

Surgery is rarely used to treat calluses or corns.1 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 treatment for soft corns does not work, the skin between the bases of the two toes can be sewn together (syndactylization). This creates a partial webbing where the soft corn had been. Another corn cannot form over this webbing.

Complications

Untreated calluses and corns can cause:

  • Pain while you are walking or wearing shoes.
  • A change in posture or walking style to avoid pain.
  • Inflammation of the fluid between the skin and the bone (bursitis).
  • Blisters.
  • An infection of the bone (osteomyelitis) or a bacterial infection of a joint (septic arthritis).
  • A sore (ulcer) on the skin.

If you have diabetes, you are more likely to get sores on your feet. In one study of more than 200 diabetic foot sores, people who had calluses and corns pared frequently by a doctor had fewer foot sores, fewer visits to the hospital, and fewer surgeries because of the sores.2

What To Think About

Be careful when you use a pumice stone to reduce the size of a callus or corn. If you take off too much skin and go too deep, the area may bleed or become infected.

Some corn pads contain medicine inside the pad. This often softens the corn too much and causes infection. It is best to avoid this type of pad.

If a corn or callus on your foot is painful and does not go away, you may want to see a doctor who specializes in foot problems (podiatrist).

Home Treatment

The initial treatment for calluses and corns usually is self-treatment at home. This includes carefully choosing your footwear, using a pumice stone, and using over-the-counter (non-prescription) salicylic acid products.

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.

For treatment options, you can:

  • Reduce the size of a callus or corn by soaking your foot 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.
  • Wear shoes that fit well and are roomy, with wide and deep toe boxes (the area that surrounds the toes). A wider toe box relieves pressure on soft corns by keeping the toes from pressing against each other. A deeper toe box relieves pressure on hard corns by keeping the toes from pressing against the top of the shoe. Thicker soles can help relieve pressure on calluses when you are walking. For more information, see:
    Click here to view an Actionset. Foot problems: Finding the right shoes.
  • Use protective padding, such as moleskin or orthotic shoe inserts, to cushion the toe or hold the foot and toes in a more comfortable position. Your doctor can help you position the pads on your feet or in your shoes.
  • Use salicylic acid to soften calluses or corns. You can then rub them 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.
  • Take care of your feet. Wash them regularly, and use lotion to keep them from drying out. Dry skin makes it easier for a callus to crack and bleed.

Prevention

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

  • Wear roomy shoes that fit well.
  • Wear socks that fit. Loose socks can bunch up and cause pressure.
  • 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.

Other Places To Get Help

Online Resource

FootHealth (In Step With Active Living)
British Columbia Association of Podiatrists (BCAP)
Web Address: http://foothealth.ca
 

This Web site sponsored by the British Columbia Association of Podiatrists (BCAP) provides a variety of general information about foot care and common foot problems.


Organizations

Canadian Dermatology Association
1385 Bank Street
Suite 425
Ottawa, ON  K1H 8N4
Phone: 1-800-267-3376
(613) 738-1748
Fax: (613) 738-4695
Email: contact.cda@dermatology.ca
Web Address: www.dermatology.ca
 

The Canadian Dermatology Association promotes research and education for dermatologists, provides information and support for dermatology patients, and offers public education materials on sun awareness and skin care.


Canadian Orthopaedic Association
4150 St. Catherine Street West
Suite 360
Westmount, QC  H3Z 2Y5
Phone: (514) 874-9003
Fax: (514) 874-0464
Web Address: www.coa-aco.org

Canadian Podiatric Medical Association
#2063, 61 Broadway Boulevard
Sherwood Park, AB  T8H 2C1
Phone: 1-888-220-3338
Email: askus@podiatrycanada.org
Web Address: http://www.podiatrycanada.org
 

The Canadian Podiatric Medical Association is a national non-profit medical association with a mandate to educate the public and to provide the highest standards of foot care in Canada.


References

Citations

  1. Lebowitz BS (2007). Common problems of the feet. In LR Barker et al., eds., Principles of Ambulatory Medicine, 7th ed., pp. 457–465. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  2. DeLauro TM, DeLauro NM (2008). Corns and calluses. In K Wolff et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed., vol. 1, pp. 871–873. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Other Works Consulted

  • Frey C, et al., eds. (2005). Corns and calluses section of Foot and ankle. In LY Griffin, ed., Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 3rd ed., pp. 610–613. Rosemont, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  • Mann JA, et al. (2006). Deformities of the lesser toes section of Foot and ankle surgery. In HB Skinner, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Orthopedics, 4th ed., pp. 475–480. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Mann JA, et al. (2006). Keratotic disorders of the plantar skin section of Foot and ankle surgery. In HB Skinner, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Orthopedics, 4th ed., pp. 484–486. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • 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 Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Alexander H. Murray, MD, FRCPC - Dermatology
Last Revised January 28, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.