Corns & Calluses

The bottom of a foot covered in calluses and corns.

What are calluses? 

A callus is a hard patch of thickened skin you often find on your hands and feet. They develop in areas of high friction or pressure when your body thickens the skin in an attempt to prevent skin irritation or breakage. 

Calluses are not usually painful unless subjected to continued pressure or friction, causing the skin to build up to a certain thickness, which may become very uncomfortable. You may also find that footwear does not fit as well when a callus is very thick in an area. 

What is a corn?

A corn is similar to a callus in that it is an area of thickened skin caused by pressure or friction, however, there are a few key differences that separate the two. A corn is smaller and has a painful "core" centre surrounded by inflamed skin. As the corn becomes thicker and bigger they develop internally in deeper layers of skin often causing pain and discomfort. It is common for them to appear on weight bearing areas of your skin, for example the soles of your feet. These corns are usually known as hard corns, where the skin has adapted and the painful "core" of the corn has become hard.  

Corns can also develop on non-weight bearing areas of the foot, specifically between toes that are "squashed" together. This is known as a soft corn. They are whitish/grey in colour and are often softer and thinner in texture. These form where the surface of the skin can become damp and is inadequately drying, often due to sweating. 

Fingers hold a foot with a callus on it
Fingers showing underneath a foot where a hard corn has formed

              Callus

                          Hard corn

Causes & risk factors

Corns and calluses develop because the skin's defensive response is to thicken when consistent pressure and friction is applied against the skin of the foot. This pressure or friction could be caused by:

  • Poor fitting footwear This could be footwear that's too tight and narrow, causing them to rub against the feet or footwear that's too big or loose, meaning your foot repeatedly slides against the shoe. 
  • Excessive pronation of the foot (the extent to which your arch collapses inward when you walk) that creates increased pressure at the front of your feet and toes
  • Feet with high arches can experience excessive pressure on the outside of feet
  • Poor range of motion and mobility in joints 
  • Long periods of standing on your feet
  • Previous trauma or surgery that has altered the structure of your feet, which may mean excessive pressure is applied to new areas of the foot. 
  • Conditions where bones are located closer to the skin's surface (bony prominences) may cause more rubbing and friction e.g. bunions & Tailor's bunions or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Specific walking and running patterns that may place extra pressure on a specific area of the foot e.g. flat feet. 
  • Dry skin

Symptoms

A small corn or callus may not show any other symptoms apart from it's physical presence. A larger one though could cause pain and discomfort, which may affect your ability to walk comfortably. Corns and calluses often occur simultaneously, with the callus hiding the corn underneath. 

If you notice any of the below symptoms, a callus may be present: 

  • The thickened skin is often harder than the surrounding skin
  • The thickened skin will be evenly distributed over a specific area
  • The area may present as a slightly paled yellow discolouration
  • Some pain or discomfort may be present for more severe calluses

If you notice any of the below symptoms, a corn may be present:

  • The thickened skin is often harder than the surrounding skin
  • The area may present as a slightly paled yellow discolouration
  • If you are experiencing pain or discomfort in the area
  • If you feel like you're walking or standing on a rock or another foreign object
  • A corn between your toes may be hard and yellow or soft and white 

Diagnosis

Corns & calluses can easily be mistaken for other skin conditions such as plantar warts, ulcers or the presence of a foreign object in your body. That's why it's important to recieve a diagnosis from a podiatrist to ensure you're offered the right treatment.  

Your podiatrist will take into account the history of your skin condition and conduct a physical examination to rule out any other conditions. In some rare cases, imaging may be required to rule out underlying conditions or foreign objects.

Treatment

Calluses

A podiatrist can easily remove your callus by debriding the thickened skin, however, unless you remove the cause of the callus, it will continue to return every 4-8 weeks.

As well as debridement, your podiatrist may administer or recommend a number of the following treatments:

  • A dermal foot balm for skin nourishment and moisture. This is similar to a moisturiser, but uses urea, an extra ingredient that substantially increases effectiveness.
  • Using a pumice stone very gently on the callused areas, being careful not to irritate the surrounding skin. 

Then offloading the sites of high friction and/or pressure through: 

  • Appropriate footwear that is a correct fit for your feet.
  • Custom prescribed insoles to offload the high pressure areas and bony prominences, and encourage optimal foot function.
  • Foot and ankle strapping.
  • An exercise program to improve mobility, flexibility and strength to encourage correct foot function.

Corns

Treating a corn is very similar to treating a callus. Our podiatrists would recommend a combination of the above treatments as well as an in-clinic procedure where the corn, particularly the painful core, would be 'scooped out' with a scalpel, removing that 'walking on a rock' feeling. 

    We do not recommend trying to remove the corn or callus yourself as you could damage the surrounding healthy tissue or blood vessels resulting in pain, infection and scarring.

    What can happen if I ignore a corn or callus?

    • Prolonged pain and discomfort, resulting in more regular debridement treatments
    • The thickened skin can sometimes be hiding a foreign object, which if not addressed, could lead to discomfort or pain in the future, especially for diabetics
    • You could develop painful heel cracks from a callus, and these could even bleed
    • A corn could form a wound if left untreated, which then has the potential to become infected.

    Prevention

    There are a number of approaches you can take to prevent yourself from getting corns and calluses.

    • Wear comfortable and well-fitted shoes. Your toes should have plenty of room and if you can't wiggle them, then your shoes are too tight. 
    • Don't wear high heels too often as they can increase friction.
    • Ensure you're thoroughly washing your feet every day and drying them after. Then follow with moisturiser to keep the skin soft and smooth. 

    FAQs

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