What Are Corns and Calluses?
Corns and calluses are thick, hard growths of skin formed in response to excessive pressure and chafing.
A callus is a patch of rough, thickened skin that forms on the feet, hands, or other sites where constant pressure or irritation provokes the skin cells in the affected area to grow at an accelerated rate. The callus itself is generally painless (and in fact, forms to protect the skin below), although the underlying skin may be tender.
A corn is a small, round callus on the surface that extends into the skin like a cone, with the point within the foot, hence the pain when pressed. Corns are usually found on or between the toes. There are two types of corns. Hard corns (heloma durums) are the most common type. They are caused primarily by ill-fitting shoes and toe deformities and usually develop on the tops and tips of the toes and on the sides of the feet. Soft corns (heloma molles) usually occur as the result of bone abnormalities in the toes. They develop between the toes.
Corns and calluses are common, minor problems that usually respond promptly to treatment. However, corns and calluses put people with diabetes mellitus at greater risk of foot infection and other complications.
Who Gets Corns and Calluses?
People who seldom wear shoes are prone to develop calluses along the bottom of their feet. Calluses can also form on people who have flat feet. People who wear ill-fitting shoes are candidates for hard corns, which develop on the toe joint. Women are two and a half times more likely to suffer from corns and calluses than men.
- For calluses: a thickened, hard, rough, sometimes yellowish areas of skin that typically appear on the soles of the feet, palms, and fingertips.
- For corns: a small bump of thickened skin on the side or top of a toe joint or between the toes. Pressure on the corn causes pain.
- Constant pressure from ill-fitting shoes is the most common cause of corns and calluses on the feet.
- Activities such as tennis, carpentry, dancing, writing, or playing the violin or guitar may cause calluses by putting repeated pressure and friction on the hands, fingers, or other parts of the body.
What If You Do Nothing?
Corns and calluses are minor inconveniences and need no special care. (However, if you have diabetes mellitus, special care must be taken because of the possibility of infection.) Once the cause is eliminated, corns and calluses generally go away within four weeks.
- Diagnosis is based on visual examination of the affected area and does not require a doctor.
- Some calluses, such as those formed by dancing or playing the guitar, protect the skin from abrasion and need not be treated.
- Corns and calluses on the feet often disappear on their own if ill-fitting shoes are replaced with good, comfortable footwear.
- Doughnut-shaped felt pads, soft insole inserts or moleskin (available in drugstores) may ease pressure from shoes around the corn or callus.
- Soak the affected area in warm water daily for at least five minutes, then use a pumice stone or callus file to rub away the upper layers of the thickened skin. (However, abrading a callus in this manner is not recommended for those with diabetes or poor circulation.)
- Wearing stockings that fit properly and using powder to keep the feet dry can also be helpful.
- A doctor may remove a corn or callus that is resistant to treatment with a scalpel or a chemical peel. In-office surgery is sometimes performed to treat soft corns. Recovery time is brief and patients typically obtain relief very quickly.
- Wear comfortable shoes that fit well.
- Wear work gloves when performing manual labor.
- If flat feet contribute to callus formation, over-the-counter arch supports or custom-molded orthotics can provide the proper support and alignment to help prevent calluses.
When To Call Your Doctor
- Because sensation and circulation may be diminished, people with diabetes mellitus should see a doctor if corns or calluses develop on the feet. They should be instructed by a doctor or nurse on how to conduct daily self-examinations of the feet.
- Make an appointment with a doctor or podiatrist if the corn or callus persists despite treatment and it is interfering with your normal daily activities.
- See a doctor or a podiatrist as soon as possible if the area around the corn or callus becomes red, painful, swollen, hot, or ulcerated; these are signs of inflammation, possibly due to infection.
Robert Hurd, M.D., American Board of Internal Medicine and Professor of Endocrinology and Health Care Ethics, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.