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Corns and calluses are patches of hard, thickened skin. These can be anywhere on your body, but they’re typically found on your feet.
Corns are small, round circles of thick skin. They’re most commonly found on the tops and sides of your toes and on the sole of the foot. They occur more frequently on bony feet that lack cushioning.
Calluses are rough, very hard patches of skin. They’re usually on the heel or the ball of your foot, but they can also be on your hands and knuckles. Calluses are usually bigger than corns and have a yellow color. They lack well-defined edges and may lack sensitivity compared to the rest of the foot.
Corns and calluses are usually painless, but they can become painful after an extended period. There are several treatments for these problems. Choosing the right treatment depends on the original cause of your corns or calluses.
If you have diabetes, check your feet for damage regularly and consult your doctor if you notice any. People with other conditions that make them prone to ulcers or infections should also consult medical help.
If corns and calluses fail to heal quickly, become infected, or are painful, red, hot, or oozing, seek medical attention.
Corns and calluses are both due to friction and pressure. They’re usually a protective reaction to prevent damage or blistering of the skin.
The most common cause of corns and calluses is ill-fitting shoes. Shoes that don’t fit correctly or are too tight are likely to rub against your skin, causing friction. Excessive amounts of walking or running in well-fitting shoes or standing up for very long periods can also cause corns and calluses.
If you wear high heels frequently, you’re likely to have calluses over the ball of the foot because of the pressure put on this joint when walking.
Other possible causes of corns and calluses include:
Some people are more likely to get corns and calluses than others. People with bunions or hammertoes tend to be more prone than others. People who walk with overpronation, which means they have ankles that roll inward too much, or oversupination, which means they have ankles that roll outward too much, are also more likely to have corns and calluses. People who have damaged sweat glands, scars, or warts on their feet are also more likely to develop corns and calluses.
To identify corns, your doctor will examine your foot and may press different areas to assess sensitivity. Tell your doctor about your lifestyle habits, such as your typical choice of footwear, how much walking you do, and whether you have participated in any sports recently. Your doctor may also ask you to walk across the room so they can assess your gait.
Your doctor is then likely to refer you to an orthopedic surgeon or podiatrist for treatment. Treatments vary depending on cause. The options include insoles and special socks to allow your foot to heal. You may also need special silicone wedges to wear between your toes to help redistribute your weight and improve your posture.
There are a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) treatments available for corns. Typically, they aim to soothe any pain or discomfort while relieving pressure. This will allow your foot to heal. It’s advisable to only use OTC treatments as a temporary solution until you can see your doctor. Corns and calluses can be a symptom of an underlying condition. If they don’t respond to home treatment, you may want to bring them to your doctor’s attention.
One of the most common treatments is corn plasters. These are thick rubber rings that have an adhesive surface. Once applied around a corn, the plaster takes the pressure, allowing your foot to heal. In some cases, corn plasters can cause the hardening of the thinner skin around the corn.
If your podiatrist thinks it’s necessary, surgery can remove calluses. This is typically only necessary if calluses are causing a great deal of pain and stopping you from being able to walk comfortably.
The surgery involves using a sharp blade to remove the thickened area and doesn’t hurt. You’re usually able to walk again immediately afterward.
Corns and calluses may clear up on their own if you eliminate the cause or if they appeared because of participation in an athletic event like a marathon.
Typically, there are no long-term consequences for failing to treat corns and calluses other than they’re likely to reappear and grow larger until you fix the problem. In some cases, corns and calluses may become infected and make walking extremely painful. In these cases, additional treatment may be necessary, and some scarring may remain when the calluses have healed.
You can prevent corns and calluses in a number of ways.
Wear comfortable footwear that properly fits. When you’re shopping for shoes, go in the afternoon when your feet are at their widest. This will help you choose shoes that will be comfortable and fit well all day.
Dry your feet carefully after washing them or getting them wet. Use a moisturizing foot cream regularly. These creams soothe the feet and soften skin.
Use a foot file or pumice stone to remove patches of hard skin from your feet. Replace your foot file regularly. Allow your pumice stone to dry thoroughly between each use.
See your doctor if you notice any foot pain or discomfort when walking. Foot pain isn’t normal, but it’s usually quite easy to identify and diagnose. There’s a variety of different treatments available to solve the problem and prevent further foot problems.
Written by: Kati Blake
Medically reviewed on: Feb 25, 2016: William A Morrison MD
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