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Corns and calluses: What you should know

Corns and calluses are painful, hardened patches of skin that form on the feet as a result of pressure or friction.

Corns and calluses are painful, hardened patches of skin that form on the feet as a result of pressure or friction.

Corns and calluses are lesions that arise when the skin tries to protect an underlying region from damage, pressure, or friction.

The lesions are more prevalent in people who wear ill-fitting shoes, have sweaty feet, or stand for lengthy periods each day.

They impact women more than males and more African American and Puerto Rican people than non-Hispanic white people.

Calluses and corns are not normally hazardous, but sometimes they may lead to irritation, infections, or ulcerations of the skin, especially among people with diabetes or poor circulation in the feet.

The difference between corns and calluses?

People frequently wrongly use the phrases “corns” and “calluses” interchangeably, but these are not the same.

  • nccmed image warning
  • Corns and calluses Corns tend to be small and round, while calluses have an irregular shape. This is a corn. Alena Ivochkina/Getty Images
  • Corns and calluses Corns tend to form on the tops and sides of the feet, while calluses tend to form on the bottoms of the feet. This is a corn. LaToya Duncan/Shutterstock
  • Corns and calluses This is a callus. Eko Ari Riswanto/Shutterstock
  • Corns and calluses Corns, pictured, and calluses are areas of skin buildup that have become thick and hard. Songrit Kamolmarttayakul/Shutterstock
  • Corns and calluses Calluses, pictured, are thick, hard, irregular patches of built up skin. Andrew Bossi, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Corns and calluses Calluses are more common on the bottoms of the feet and areas that bear pressure. Isa Sora/Alamy Stock Photo
  • Corns and calluses These are calluses. Rawpixel/Getty Images
  • Corns and calluses These are calluses. nik wheeler/Getty Images

What is a callus?

A callus is an area of skin that swells due of friction, pressure, or irritation. They frequently happen on the feet but can also occur on the hands, elbows, or knees.

They normally do not cause any discomfort. However, a callus on the foot may become uncomfortable when a person exerts pressure on it while walking in shoes.

Calluses are yellowish or pale in color. They feel lumpy to the touch, but because the afflicted skin is thick, it may be less sensitive to touch than the skin around it.

Calluses are frequently broader and wider than corns, with less-defined edges. They often occur where the skin constantly brushes against something, such as a bone, footwear, or the ground.

They generally form over the bony region right beneath the toes, which is the area of skin that takes the person’s weight as they are walking.

A plantar callus is a special type of callus that formon the bottom of the heel. It happens when one of the foot bones is longer than the other and impacts the ground more violently when a person walks. This causes the skin under this bone to thicken.

What is a corn?

A corn is a form of callus made of dead skin.

Corns on toes are quite prevalent since these are smooth, hairless skin surfaces. The corns are generally small and round, with a clearly defined core that might be hard or soft.

Hard corns tend to be small. They occur in areas of firm, hard skin, where the skin has thickened or where there are calluses, and in bony portions of the foot.

Soft corns tend to be white in color, with a rubbery texture, and may seem like an open sore and give a person pain. They most typically appear between the toes, in regions of moist and sweaty skin.

A third type of corn is a seed corn, which can grow on the soles in clusters and is typically not painful.

Signs and symptoms

Corns and calluses can make a person feel as though they are walking on stones. The following signs or symptoms may suggest a corn or callus:

  • a raised, hardened bump
  • a thick and rough area of skin
  • pain or tenderness under the skin

If a corn or callus gets exceedingly painful, leaks fluid, feels warm, or appears red, a person should seek medical care. These may be symptoms that the area is infected.

People with poor circulation, weak skin, or nerve issues and numbness in the foot should also consult to their doctor before treating corns and calluses at home.

People with diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, and peripheral arterial disease need to be extra careful.

Causes and risk factors

The biggest risk factor for both corns and calluses is any pressure or friction on the skin. On the feet and hands, this may be caused by:

  • wearing shoes that are too tight, too loose, or too high-heeled
  • having a badly placed seam in a shoe
  • wearing socks that do not fit well
  • not wearing socks
  • walking barefoot regularly, as the skin will thicken to protect itself
  • using hand tools, sports equipment, or musical instruments without gloves
  • cycling frequently
  • kneeling or resting elbows on a table repeatedly

Older age, joint diseases, other foot issues like bunions or hammer toe, walking a lot on flat surfaces, or having flat feet are all risk factors. Diabetes is a risk factor for calluses in particularly.

Treatment at home

Many people utilize over-the-counter medicines from a pharmacy to cure corns and calluses at home.

Corns and calluses can also be treated in other ways:

  • Soak the corn or callus in warm water for 5–10 minutes before filing or scraping the region with a pumice stone to reduce the size of the lesion. Dead skin can be removed by moving in circular or sideways motions.
  • Apply moisturizer to your feet on a daily basis. Salicylic acid, urea, and ammonium lactate-containing products soften dry skin and prepare it for filing.
  • Use proper-fitting shoes and socks, protective pads or insoles, or other self-care measures. Foam or silicone wedges can be placed between the toes to relieve pressure on a corn. People with structural anomalies in their feet may benefit from orthotics, which are custom-made padded shoe inserts.

When should you see a doctor?

It is preferable to visit a doctor or a podiatrist who specializes in foot care if the corn or callus is particularly painful, or if the individual has diabetes, fragile skin, or circulation difficulties.

The doctor will examine the patient’s feet, inquire about their lifestyle, and inspect their footwear. The doctor may prescribe antibiotic ointment if there are signs of infection.

If the doctor senses an issue with the patient’s bone structure, he or she may be referred for an X-ray and maybe surgery.

Removal of corns and calluses

Without medical guidance, a person should never attempt to remove a corn or callus, especially if they have diabetes or other underlying disorders. This can result in diabetic ulcers, as well as circulation and numbness issues. This raises the chance of infection as well.

A doctor can trim the lesion with a little knife, but only in a medical office should they do so. A corn or callus may reoccur, necessitating frequent or repeated trimming.

Only if the lesion is caused by defects in the person’s bone structure, such as a hammer toe or bunion, or in certain situations, a plantar callus, can a doctor prescribe surgery to remove it.

A doctor can also remove a corn or callus by softening the lesion with a patch containing 40% salicylic acid. To prevent the corn or callus from returning, a person may need to reapply the patch at home and massage the area with a pumice stone.

What is salicylic acid, and how does it work?

Salicylic acid is the most common therapy for corns and calluses. It’s also used to treat other ailments including warts, according to doctors.

This is a keratolytic, meaning it dissolves the protein keratin, which makes up the corn and the dead skin around it. It’s available as creams, pads, and plasters, or it can be applied using a dropper or applicator.

After using the acid, the top layer of the skin will become white, allowing the user to cut or file away the dead skin. If the hard skin returns after the corn or callus has been removed, the individual can wash the region and massage it with a pumice stone once a week.

Salicylic acid is available in a variety of concentrations. Stronger dosages may work faster, but they must be prescribed.

Because the chemicals might irritate surrounding skin, it should be used with caution and not on a broken corn or callus.

Salicylic acid should not be used by people. Before taking salicylic acid, older persons should consult a doctor since it might develop skin issues that are difficult to treat.

A person may have an allergic response to salicylic acid in rare situations. A severe headache, stomachache, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, trouble breathing, and skin feelings of burning or itching are all possible symptoms.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms, or anything else that seems alarming, should get medical help immediately

Preventive tips

Corns and calluses can be avoided by taking the following precautions:

  • avoiding or reducing any actions that may be causing the symptoms
  • wearing well-fitting shoes and socks with seams that do not rub the skin
  • protecting the hands when using tools, either with padded gloves or by padding the tool handles
  • wearing padding when needed — for example, wearing knee pads when kneeling on a hard surface
  • consulting a podiatrist about any issues with walking posture that a person may need to correct or any structural irregularities in the feet that a doctor may need to address surgically
  • using a pumice stone or foot file regularly and removing hard skin gently while bathing

Corns and calluses may fade away with therapy, but without a change in lifestyle or footwear, they may recur.



Obianuju Chukwu

She has a degree in pharmacy and has worked in the field as a pharmacist in a hospital. Teaching, blogging, and producing scientific articles are some of her interests. She enjoys writing on various topics relating to health and medicine, including health and beauty-related natural treatments, the nutritional worth of various foods, and mental wellness.