Corns and calluses

Calluses and corns are raised areas of local thickening of the surface layer of the skin. This layer is known as the keratin layer. When it becomes thickened the condition is known as hyperkeratosis.

Calluses are bigger than corns and are usually found on the bottom (sole) of the foot, either around the heel or around the front of the foot at the base of the first and fourth toes — places where pressure occurs.

Corns are smaller and often have a central core, or ‘plug’, of keratin, which can be seen. The top of the fifth toe (where it gets squashed by tight shoes) is the most common site for a corn. Sometimes they are found between the toes, where they can be extremely painful.

Causes

  • Calluses and corns are usually found in places where there is friction or pressure.
  • They are usually the result of badly fitting shoes, but can also occur if your feet are abnormally shaped.
  • They are sometimes found on other parts of the body where friction occurs, for example, on the fingers of guitar players.

Complications

Calluses and corns are among the most common causes of sore feet. Painful areas on the feet can be a great source of misery, making walking uncomfortable. Sufferers are often reluctant to take regular exercise.

Treatment of corns and calluses

The best way to treat corns and calluses is to remove the hard keratin on a regular basis. This can be done by ‘shaving’ with a sharp, preferably sterile, blade. This is best done by a doctor or podiatrist. For those who prefer the do-it-yourself approach, a pumice stone can be used to do the job. Various preparations are available to help soften the areas of hyperkeratosis. These usually contain salicylic acid, which is present in corn plasters.

Prevention

Although the discomfort of calluses and corns is often easily fixed, the problem will inevitably come back if the underlying problem, usually wearing the wrong pair of shoes, is not corrected. If changing shoes does not help, seeing a podiatrist may be helpful.

When to see a doctor or podiatrist

  • If you have diabetes, do not attempt to manage corns and calluses yourself. Get treatment from your doctor or podiatrist.
  • If the corn or callus becomes inflamed, see your doctor.
  • If you have circulation problems, see a doctor or podiatrist before attempting to deal with the problem yourself.
Last Reviewed: 8 September 2015
Your Doctor. Dr Michael Jones, Medical Editor.

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References

1. Mayo Clinic. Corns and calluses. Reviewed April 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/corns-and-calluses/basics/definition/con-20014462 (accessed Sept 2015).
2. Australian Podiatry Association. Corns and calluses. http://www.podiatry.asn.au/knowledgebase.asp?pid=16&id=26 (accessed Sept 2015).
Dr Michael Jones

Dr Michael Jones

Medical Editor, Your Doctor.