Corns and calluses treatment are among the most common foot care problems to affect adults and children, but they can be treated successfully. Whilst some people are more prone to developing corns and/or calluses, there are a number of ways to treat existing foot problems and prevent them from returning in the future. 

What are corns and calluses?

Corns and calluses can easily be mistaken for one another, but they’re actually two distinct types of skin concerns. Whilst corns are a type of callus, they differ in the symptoms they produce and the treatment they require. 

Corns typically appear as a small, hard lump on the toe or foot. Often, the corn has a hard center but the skin around it may be quite inflamed, giving it a red or shiny appearance. Although corns can occur on parts of the foot which bear weight, they are usually seen on non-weight bearing areas, such as the side of your foot or the top of your toes. Dry corns are typically associated with the following features:

  • Lump of hard skin
  • Present on the top or sides of your toes, or the side of your foot
  • Inflamed skin
  • Painful to touch
  • Slightly red, shiny appearance
  • Fairly small
  • Round in appearance and generally well-defined
  • Flaky or dry skin

Although dry corns are particularly common, many people are affected by soft corns too. These usually occur between the toes, in areas which are moister than the top of the toe. The center of soft corns is typically less firm and the corn may have a rubbery appearance and may be white in color. 

Soft corns are not covered by thick skin in the same way that hard corns are, so they must be treated with additional care. Although soft corns can be removed and prevented, they require different treatment to both corns and calluses. 

A callus is a thickened area of the skin, which may feel hard or firm to the touch. Often rough, calluses may feel like very, very dry skin and they may appear to be slightly raised. Although calluses can be painful, when you touch the affected area it may be less sensitive than the skin around it. This is because the hardened skins prevents you from registering touch in that particular area. If you have developed a callus, you may notice the following features:

  • Hard, thick skin in a particular area
  • Occurs in weight-bearing areas and areas subject to friction
  • Can vary in size and are not necessarily well-defined
  • May occur on any part of the foot but are most common on the heal, sole and sides of the foot
  • Can also appear on the hands and elbows
  • Affected area is less sensitive than the skin which surrounds it
  • May appear pale or yellow in color

What is the difference between corns and calluses?

Corns are a type of callus but they have a distinct set of features, as highlighted above. However, both corns and calluses are defined as skin changes which usually occur in response to environmental factors. Both are formed by dead or dry skin and both are common foot care problems. 

However, corns may be more painful than calluses, depending on which part of the foot they affect. Whilst calluses can reduce the skin’s sensitivity, dry corns do not tend to do so. As a result, people with corns may feel constant discomfort or pressure, particularly when wearing shoes or slippers. 

What causes corns and calluses? 

Corns and calluses develop in response to friction or pressure on the affected area. In order to try and protect the soft tissue, bone, muscle and vascular system beneath it, the skin develops certain characteristics. 

If you regularly wear shoes which rub along the top of your toes, for example, you may develop dry corns because of the friction between the shoe and your skin. By forming a corn, the skin prevents this friction from causing further damage to your toes. Whilst corns may be painful, they are not usually dangerous. By producing extra layers of skin and forming a dry, hard center, the corn effectively reduces friction on the internal structure of the toe and prevents further damage from occurring.

Similarly, calluses are formed in response to friction or pressure. The thick, hardened skin helps to reduce sensitivity, which limits the level of pain you experience. Furthermore, the thickened skin acts as a barrier between the structure of the affected area and the external source of pressure. 

People will heel spurs often develop calluses because of the extra pressure placed on the heel, for example. A heel spur is a built of calcium which presents as a bony, hard protrusion in the heel. This places additional pressure and friction on the skin from the inside of the foot. When you walk, this additional pressure increases the level of friction between your heel and the ground. In order to reduce pain and prevent additional damage, the skin thickens. As the thickened skin hardens, a callus is formed, friction is reduced and the level of pain and discomfort is minimized.

Although corns and calluses typically develop in response to friction and pressure, there are numerous ways that undue pressure can be placed on the foot. Common causes of corns and calluses may include:

  • Wearing inappropriate footwear
  • Not wearing socks
  • Wearing shoes which are too large or too small
  • Poorly fitting socks
  • Badly made shoes which feature ill-placed seams
  • Regular walking or jogging, particularly in overpronators or under-pronators
  • Walking around barefoot, particularly on hard surfaces or outside
  • Spending excessive amounts of time standing up or walking 
  • Not using protective or supportive footwear, when needed

Wearing poorly fitting shoes is the most common cause of corns and calluses. Footwear which is too small increases pressure on particular parts of the foot, causing both corns and calluses to develop. When shoes are too big, however, there is increased friction between your skin and the material of the shoe, which also results in corns and calluses forming. Whilst shoes should give your feet room to breathe and your toes room to move, they shouldn’t be too tight or too loose. 

Who gets corns and calluses?

People of all ages can get corns and calluses, and they affect both men and women. However, there are some common scenarios which may give rise to corns and calluses, such as:

  • Performing a job role which requires you to be on your feet for long periods of time
  • Doing a job which requires you to wear heavy or poorly-fitting footwear
  • Increasing age
  • Diabetes
  • Problems with your circulation
  • Existing foot deformities, such as bunions or hammertoes 

If you spend a large part of the day standing up, you may be more susceptible to corns and calluses. This is because your feet will be subject to friction for longer periods of time. Even if you’re wearing appropriate shoes, the additional pressure and friction from the ground could result in corns and/or calluses forming. 

Similarly, if your job role requires you to wear heavy boots or tight footwear, you may develop corns and calluses fairly frequently. People who work for the emergency services or in the construction industry are often required to wear strong, leather boots, for example. Until these are worn in and have molded to the shape of your foot, they can cause areas of increased friction and pressure. Corns and calluses may develop in response to this, so foot care problems may be more likely in these scenarios.

Although you can develop corns and calluses at any age, they are more likely to occur as you get older. This is because the skin contains less fatty tissue as we get older, which means there is less padding between the internal structure of the foot and external sources of friction and pressure. As a result, the limited natural protection means your skin is more likely to form corns and calluses in response to an average amount of friction or pressure. 

Individuals with diabetes can suffer from various foot care issues and these are often linked to poor circulation. Any condition which affects your circulation can lead to a myriad of foot care issues, although corns and calluses are among the most common. Poor circulation can reduce foot sensitivity, so individuals may not always be aware that they have a corn or callus forming. As a result, they may not take swift action to minimize the issue and corns and calluses may develop more aggressively. 

Existing foot problems also account for a number of corns and calluses. When your foot is affected by a structural issue or deformity, it may mean that additional pressure is placed on specific areas. If you have a bunion, for example, the inner joint of the big toe is more likely to press against shoes and there only a thin layer of skin between this source of external pressure and the bone inside the foot. Similarly, hammertoes can cause the toes could rise upwards at either or both toe joints. When this happens, the toes are more likely to rub against the inside of your shoe and corns and calluses are, therefore, more likely to occur.

Although these scenarios can increase the risk of corns and calluses forming, there is action you can take to treat existing foot care issues and to reduce the likelihood of them returning. With appropriate foot care and treatment, it is possible to avoid a recurrence of corns and calluses, provided you maintain a regular foot care regime. 

Corns and calluses Treatment at home

When it comes to getting rid of corns and calluses, there are various options you can try. Whilst there are many home remedies and over-the-counter treatments which can be used to remove existing corns and calluses, these may not be suitable for everyone. Individuals with diabetes, poor circulation and/or fragile skin should not attempt to treat corns and calluses at home, for example, as they are more likely to suffer serious complications due to reduced sensitivity in the skin.

Although corns and calluses are easily recognizable, you’ll need to confirm that the lesion on your foot is in a fact a corn or callus before you start treating it. If you mistake a blister for corn, for example, applying the wrong treatment could damage the skin and lead to further complications. If you’re unsure, seek help from a doctor or pharmacist to ensure you have the correct diagnosis.

Despite this, there are numerous ways to successfully treat corns and calluses and prevent from the returning. These include:

Doing Nothing

Do nothing may not sound like an effective treatment, but it can be successful in many cases. If you can identify the source of friction or pressure which is causing the corn or callus, you may be able to treat them by simply removing the source of them. If a particular pair of shoes places unnecessary pressure on your toes, for example, switching to a more comfortable pair could remove this pressure, allowing corns and calluses to subside naturally. 

If you’re not experiencing any symptoms and you’re able to identify the cause behind your corns and calluses, this may be a viable treatment option for you.

Using a Pumice Stone

A pumice stone can be a particularly effective way to reduce calluses and it can be used on corns too. A popular form of home-treatment, it simply involves soaking your feet in warm water for a few minutes and then using a pumice stone to gently remove hardened, thick skin. Whilst this can be an extremely effective treatment, you should be careful not to break the skin or cause further damage to the area.

Moisturizing your feet

Using a moisturizer on a daily basis can help to minimize corns and calluses, particularly if it contains certain ingredients. Urea, salicylic acid, and ammonium lactate are known to soften skin, so products containing these ingredients may produce results more quickly. People often combine moisturizing their feet using a pumice stone in order to increase the effectiveness of at-home treatment.

Apply Padding

There are a number of products which relieve the pain and discomfort caused by corns and calluses by adding padding to the surrounding area. Sometimes known as corn plasters or cushions, these are small adhesives which are applied around the corn to prevent anything from rubbing against it. In addition to this, padded socks can help to reduce any pressure or friction which causes pain or discomfort when a corn or callus is present. 

Corn Removers

Corn removers can be purchased over-the-counter and may enable you to remove a dry corn at home. Usually, these involve applying a concentrated amount of salicylic acid to the area at regular intervals until the corn is able to come away from the skin easily. Although these treatments can be effective at removing existing corns, they shouldn’t be used if you’re in considerable pain or discomfort, or if you have any other conditions which could increase the risk of complications. 

In most cases, corns and calluses are not serious health concerns but they can cause on-going discomfort if they aren’t treated and resolved effectively. If you are in a significant amount of pain due to a corn or callus, if you have an existing condition which may complicate treatment or if your skin is particularly fragile, it’s advisable to seek medical assistance.

Treating corns and calluses in a medical setting

If you’re unable to treat corns and calluses at home, visiting a podiatrist, doctor or chiropodist may be the best way forward. With access to a range of specialist treatments and medications, professionals can deliver treatment in a safe environment, thus reducing the risk of complications.

In some cases, a podiatrist or doctor may perform similar treatment to the remedies you can try at home. Filing skin away from the foot and applying high doses of salicylic acid can be done in a doctor’s office, for example. However, visiting a medical professional ensures that you don’t inadvertently cause damage to the skin.

Breaking the skin or using a treatment which is too harsh could increase the risk of infection and may lead to an ulcer, or open sore, occurring. If your doctor thinks you are at risk of an infection due to prior at-home treatments, they may prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat it or to prevent it from taking hold. 

A medical professional can also help you to identify the cause of your corns and calluses if you’ve been unable to do so yourself. You may be referred for further diagnostic testing if the doctor thinks the structure of your foot may be contributing to the situation, for example. This can be extremely useful when it comes to treating corns and calluses, as well as any underlying issues. The most effective way to treat corns and calluses is to remove the source, i.e. the extra friction or pressure. If you’re unable to identify this yourself, a medical professional may be able to determine what is causing the corns and calluses to develop and you will then be able to take action to prevent them from recurring.

Preventing corns and calluses

Once any existing corns and calluses have been treated or removed, it’s important to maintain a regular foot care routine to prevent them from routine. In order to keep your feet healthy and pain-free, you may want to consider the following preventative options:

Alternate your footwear

Many of us wear the same shoes every day, but this can be damaging to our feet. Even if your shoes feel comfortable, they could be placing unnecessary pressure on your foot. Switch your shoes regularly so that your feet don’t become accustomed to friction and pressure in certain areas.

Wear properly-fitting shoes

If your shoes are too loose or too tight, it’s time to invest in a new pair. Excess friction and pressure is commonly associated with poorly-fitting shoes, so it’s essential you take action if you want to stop corns and calluses coming back. If your footwear is too big, you may be able to add insoles and padded cushions to improve their fit, and this could negate the need for a new pair of shoes.

Trim your toenails

If your toenails are too long, they may press against the tips of your shoes and cause your toes to bend. This often increases the amount of friction which affects the top of the toes and can cause dry corns to form. By keeping your toenails trimmed, you can remove this source of friction and prevent corns and calluses from re-forming.

Moisturize your skin regularly

Using a suitable moisturizer should keep your skin soft and supple, and this could reduce the risk of corns and calluses developing. Whilst you should also aim to reduce any sources of friction and pressure, keeping your feet moisturized is an effective way of minimizing the risk of corns and calluses returning.

Use a foot file

Gently scraping any hard or dead skin off your fit with a pumice stone or foot file can stop corns and calluses in their tracks. By taking action before a corn or callus have fully formed, you can avoid it developing it all together and prevent it from recurring on that particular area of your foot.

Visit a specialist

Many of us only visit a podiatrist or foot specialist when we’re suffering from pain, but having a regular appointment with a foot specialist can be one of the easiest ways to prevent foot complaints occurring. A specialist will be able to identify potential risk factors and early signs of corns and calluses, and he or she will also be able to intervene swiftly and prevent them from developing further. 

Although corns and calluses do not usually pose a serious health risk, it is always advisable to seek medical help in order to obtain a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment advice. Whilst corns and calluses may not be serious, they can cause a significant amount pain and discomfort, so an effective method of treatment and prevention is vital to keep your feet in a healthy, comfortable condition.

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