What is a plantar callus?
Plantar calluses are tough, thickened skin that form on the surface of the bottom part of your foot (the plantar side). Plantar calluses occur commonly on the plantar fascia. This is the thick band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your toes and the ball of the foot. They can be uncomfortable, but they are very treatable.
Plantar calluses are extremely common. They’re not a cause for concern unless certain problematic symptoms arise alongside them.
The skin of a plantar callus is gray or yellowish. The skin may also feel hard, rough, dry, and flaky. It may be painful when direct pressure is applied to the area.
Plantar calluses can be large, covering a wide span of the heel or the ball of the foot.
How plantar calluses differ from other skin growths
Because of how much we use our feet every day, they’re prone to lots of different growths. You may be unsure if you have developed a corn or a plantar wart on your foot, instead of a callus.
A corn is a small patch of thickened skin with a plug in the center. Corns typically develop on the tops and side of the toes.
Plantar warts, on the other hand, are often found on the bottom of the foot. Warts have a cauliflower-like appearance, with small black pinpoints in the center. A plantar wart may bleed when you walk on it.
Plantar warts don’t have skin striations (engraved grooves) when they develop on the foot. Plantar warts are most painful when side-to-side pressure is applied, while plantar calluses can cause pain when direct pressure is applied to the area.
Calluses form when there is frequent pressure or friction applied to a specific area. This is why calluses are so common on our feet, which support our body weight. Calluses form as a protection for the skin against this pressure.
Wearing ill-fitting shoes with thin socks or no socks, for example, can be responsible for applying excess pressure to the feet. High heels, which are most often designed for fashion and not comfort or practicality, are often the worst offenders.
High levels of activity, especially those that put pressure on the feet, can also contribute to plantar calluses. Runners and athletes, for example, or those who walk instead of drive are more prone to plantar calluses.
There’s evidence that smoking can increase the likelihood of developing calluses on the feet. This is thought to be due to the constriction of vessels in the extremities that is caused by smoking. This can lead to the decline or atrophy of the subcutaneous tissue. Eventually, this may cause increased contact between bone and skin, creating more calluses.
Bone deformities can also be responsible. Sometimes, a bone deformity will result in excess pressure being applied to certain areas of the foot, especially if a person’s gait is altered as a result of the deformity.
Plantar calluses, though uncomfortable, do not automatically warrant a visit to a doctor. In some cases, however, you should make an appointment with your general practitioner or podiatrist. These instances include:
- If you have diabetes, heart disease, or circulatory problems. If you have one of these conditions, you have a higher risk of developing an infection. If you have nerve damage from diabetes, this can be dangerous. Make an appointment with your doctor immediately if you have one of these conditions and you experience any changes to your feet.
- Your callus has a clear fluid or pus discharge. This is a sign that the callus is infected or ulcerated and needs immediate treatment.
- If your plantar calluses are recurring. Your podiatrist or orthopedic surgeon may help you determine why your calluses keep returning.
- If you notice that your callus is red, particularly painful, or warm to the touch. These symptoms could signal an infection.
Most plantar calluses can be treated at home. Soaking your feet in warm water for at least ten minutes, and using thick moisturizers and lotions once the skin is dry can help soften the callus. You can also use pumice stones or metal files to trim down the callus. This treatment is most effective after soaking your feet in warm water.
Shoe pad inserts and shoes with more support and padding can also be used to relieve pressure on problem areas.
If home treatments are not effective, a doctor can help you treat your plantar callus. Your physician has two primary methods of treating plantar calluses. The first is to remove the thick skin of the callus with a scalpel. The second is to apply patches or creams containing 40 percent salicylic acid to the callus. The latter is most effective when reapplied daily, and when it’s used after using a pumice stone or metal file to remove the callus.
To prevent plantar calluses long term, your doctor may advise you to wear a different type of shoe that is better suited to your foot shape and foot arch. They may also be able to look at your gait and determine if that is why you develop calluses.
If a bone deformity is causing the calluses and other symptoms, your doctor can recommend surgery to correct it.
Plantar calluses are extremely common among people of all ages. If the callus isn’t affecting how you walk or showing symptoms of an infection, it’s not a cause for concern.
In most cases, home treatments should help you manage them.
If you’re experiencing regular plantar calluses in the same place, talk to your doctor to find out why.
If you have diabetes and develop a new plantar callus, or notice changes in an existing one, make an appointment to see your doctor. Diabetes can cause nerve damage and loss of sensation in the feet. This can mean that an infection can go unnoticed until it can become very dangerous.