Treating and Preventing Plantar Warts

Medically reviewed by William A. Morrison, MD on April 16, 2017Written by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN on November 29, 2016

Overview

Plantar warts are common warts that affect the bottom of the feet. Most people will have one at some point in their lives. Plantar warts, officially named verrucae warts, are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), specifically types 1, 2, 4, 60, and 63. The virus attacks the skin on the bottom of the feet.

HPV thrives in warm, moist places, such as locker room floors and around swimming pools. Those little puddles on the surface of pool tiles are a breeding ground for HPV. The virus is transmitted by direct contact and may be picked up more easily if you have an opening or crack in your skin.

Symptoms of a plantar wart

Plantar warts can be extremely painful. One of the first symptoms you may notice is pain or tenderness when putting pressure on your foot while walking.

Once the wart has formed, you’ll see a circular flat spot on the skin with a depressed area in the middle. The wart may appear yellowed, with a crust, or even have a black spot in the middle.

Underneath the skin, the wart can have callused, finger-like roots that reach down and grow.

Read more: Warts: Types and home treatment»

How to treat a plantar wart

In some cases, a plantar wart will resolve naturally. Other cases may require treatment. You can treat a plantar wart a few different ways, either by seeing your doctor or treating the wart at home. Treatments include:

  • salicylic acid cream, a topical cream that can "burn" off the wart
  • liquid nitrogen, which can be used to “freeze” off the wart
  • curettage, which involves cutting out the wart
  • medicine applied directly to the wart
  • laser therapy to burn off the blood vessels that feed the wart
  • alternative treatments, such as essential oils

Salicylic acid cream and liquid nitrogen are the most common treatments. Both require multiple treatments over several weeks to get rid of the wart or warts.

Salicylic acid is available over the counter. You can use it at home. Follow the directions on the packaging, and expect to apply the medication for at least twelve weeks.

One study found that treating a plantar wart at home was just as effective as treatment by a doctor. This study used 50% salicylic acid for the self-treatment of plantar warts. This is a higher concentration of salicylic acid often used by podiatrists.

If your wart is deep or if it reoccurs, you may need to see a doctor. Your doctor may combine different treatments, such as cryotherapy with salicylic acid, for more effective results.

Some evidence suggests that alternative therapies, such as using garlic, can help treat a plantar wart. To try this at-home remedy, apply fresh, peeled garlic directly to the wart. Cover it with duct tape to let the garlic target the wart, and then remove. You can also apply a garlic essential oil directly to the wart. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before trying alternative treatments.

How is it diagnosed?

If you suspect you have a plantar wart, you should check in with your doctor. It can be hard to tell how much the wart has grown beneath the skin. You should definitely see your doctor if the wart is causing you pain or spreading to another location.

Your doctor can help you determine which treatment is best for you based on how advanced the wart is. If the wart has returned, for example, your doctor might choose a different combination treatment to ensure its removal.

Recovering from a plantar wart

Most treatments for plantar warts take at least several weeks. The most important thing to remember when treating a wart is consistency. Plantar warts can be difficult to eliminate and they have a tendency to return, so you want to be sure to follow your treatment plan carefully.

Cryotherapy usually requires two to three trips to the doctor for liquid nitrogen therapy. Laser therapy might work in one to three treatments. You may also want to consider the cost of plantar wart treatments. At-home salicylic acid costs around five dollars, while laser therapy can run up to hundreds of dollars.

If you’ve had your wart cut off, you’ll want to stay off your foot for about a day. Keep the area covered with a bandage and avoid putting pressure on the wart site.

Outlook

Plantar warts are common and treatable. You may be able to treat them at home, but more serious cases will require treatment at your doctor’s office.

Tips for preventing plantar warts

To prevent a plantar wart, consider the following tips:

  • Always cover your feet in shared community spaces, such as pools, locker rooms, or dorms.
  • Ask your doctor about receiving the HPV vaccine, which may help prevent warts, though more research is needed.
  • If you have a wart, change your shoes and socks daily.
  • Keep the wart covered and wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading plantar warts to other people.

Plantar wart: Q&A

CMS Id: 113386