What Causes Corns?

Medically reviewed by Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN on April 24, 2018Written by Kati Blake

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... Read More

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 soles of your feet. 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 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.

What are the symptoms of corns and calluses?

Corns and calluses are usually painless but can become painful after an extended period.

There are several treatments. Choosing the right one depends on the original cause of your corns or calluses.

In some cases, symptoms call for consulting a doctor:

  • If you have diabetes, check your feet for damage regularly and consult your doctor if you notice any corns or calluses.
  • 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.

What causes corns and calluses?

Corns and calluses are both due to friction and pressure. They are usually a protective reaction to prevent damage to or blistering of the skin.

The most common cause of corns and calluses are shoes that don’t fit well. If the fit isn’t correct or the shoes are too tight, they’re likely to rub against your skin, causing friction.

Doing lots of walking or running, even in shoes that fit well, 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:

  • manual labor
  • bunching of socks or the lining of shoes
  • not wearing shoes
  • taking part in athletic events that put pressure on the feet

Some people are more likely to get corns and calluses than others:

What are the treatment options for corns and calluses?

To identify corns, your doctor examines 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 that 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.

Self-treatment for corns and calluses

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 also allows your foot to heal. But it’s advisable to use OTC treatments only as a temporary solution until you can see your doctor.

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.

There are a variety of self-treatments for calluses, the simplest being a 20-minute soak in warm water followed by rubbing the callus gently with your finger. Other soaks include apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, and more.

If corns and calluses don’t respond to home treatment, you may want to bring them to your doctor’s attention. They can be a symptom of an underlying condition.

Surgery for calluses

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.

What are the complications associated with corns and calluses?

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 training for or running in a marathon.

Typically, there are no long-term consequences for failing to treat corns and calluses other than that they’re likely to reappear and grow larger until you fix whatever is causing them.

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 or been removed.

How can I prevent corns and calluses?

You can prevent corns and calluses in a number of ways.

Comfortable shoes

Wear comfortable footwear that properly fits. When you’re shopping for shoes, go in the afternoon when your feet are at their widest. This helps you choose shoes that will fit well and be comfortable all day.

General foot care

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.

Report foot pain

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 are a number of treatments available to help solve this foot problem and prevent future ones.

Medically reviewed by Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN on April 24, 2018Written by Kati Blake

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.

Medically reviewed by Cynthia Cobb, DNP, APRN on April 24, 2018Written by Kati Blake
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