What Are Corns and Calluses?

Corns and calluses are unsightly—and occasionally tender or painful—patches of thickened, hardened, waxy skin. Although they can be thought of as differing versions of the same basic problem, circumstances make them a little different:

  • Calluses tend to form on weight-bearing surfaces, or over places that deal with a lot of pressure, such as the bottom of the feet (particularly the heel and ball) or the palms of the hands. They are usually long, flat, and do not cause any physical pain.
  • Corns tend to form on non-weight bearing areas of the feet, especially the tops, sides, and between toes. Unlike calluses, they are more cone-shaped and feature a hard center surrounded by inflamed skin (which could be hard or soft). They are also more likely to cause pain, especially when pressed or rubbed against.

What Causes Corns and Calluses?

Corns and calluses both form in response to repetitive pressure and friction over time. They are a natural mechanism used by the skin to help protect itself against damage. Although they might keep you from developing a wound, they can still be frustrating and uncomfortable.

Common contributing factors may include:

  • Foot structure. Significant deformities—bunions, hammertoes, bone spurs, etc.—that alter your foot shape in obvious ways often lead to corns Wearing Socksand calluses around joints that have shifted out of place. However, you don’t have to have an obvious deformity for this to be the case. Even relatively minor misalignments and abnormalities can increase pressure on skin in certain areas.
  • Poorly fitting shoes. Tight shoes can pinch toes and heels, and compress other areas of the feet in ways that can form corns and calluses. Loose shoes that slide around on your feet, or even raised seams or stitches inside the lining, can also create the necessary friction.
  • Repetitive activity. Individuals who put a lot of stress and strain on their feet—runners and other athletes, for example—are more likely to develop corns and calluses.
  • Not wearing socks. Socks provide an extra layer of cushioning and protection against pressure and friction.

Do Corns and Calluses Need Treatment?

Treatment for corns and calluses depends on two main factors: whether or not they are causing pain, and whether or not you have any conditions that would increase your infection risk.

If you are a healthy individual, corns and calluses do not need treatment unless they are painful. If you remove the source of the pressure and friction—for example, purchase a better fitting pair of shoes—they will go away on their own given enough time. We might also recommend moleskins, toe separators, orthotics, or other types of padding to protect at-risk skin. Healthy individuals may reduce the size of their corn or callus by soaking their feet in warm water and gently use a pumice stone to remove a layer of dead skin; we also recommend the use of medicated moisturizers containing keratolytics that can help to soften corns and calluses.

If you have diabetes or any other condition that inhibits healthy circulation or nerve function, do not attempt to treat corns and calluses on your own. Instead, contact the Northwest Extremity Specialists.  Our team can help you reduce or eliminate your corns and calluses in a safe environment, so you don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk for cuts, infections, or other complications. Call the office nearest to your home or workplace to schedule an appointment today.