Do you have a thick layer of skin on your feet? You might have round, hard growths on your feet that you can’t explain? If either of these sound familiar, you might have a corn or callus.
While neither of these conditions are usually harmful or dangerous, they can lead to irritation, infections, or ulcerations of the skin, especially among people with diabetes or poor circulation in the feet. Plus, they are often a source of embarrassment and discomfort for people, particularly during the summertime when your feet may be more exposed.
In this article we’re going to cover everything you need to know about corns and calluses. What are the key differences between a corn and a callus? What are the symptoms associated with each? How can you treat them? Let’s get started. For more foot focused content, subscribe to the FootPrints Blog.
What are corns and calluses?
Corns and calluses are a buildup of hard, thick areas of skin usually seen on feet, hands or fingers. Even though they are often lumped together as one condition, there are a few differences between each.
A corn, or clavus, is a type of small callus. It has a hard center surrounded by inflamed skin. It may look like a round bump or a blister. It forms at a pressure point near a bone, creating a cone-shaped callus that presents on the surface of the skin.
Corns tend to develop on parts of your feet that don't bear weight. That’s why they can be confused with a blister, appearing on the top or side of the toes. They have even been known to form in between toes, which can be particularly painful.
A callus is a wider area of thickened skin tissue. It forms on the base of the foot, or where the foot sees the most friction and pressure - like along the underside of the big toe or underneath the heel. Unlike a corn, a callus takes up a wider surface area and usually isn’t painful. However, it can lead to more serious problems like a skin ulceration or infection.
The commonality between corns and calluses are that they are both types of responses made by your skin in response to friction and pressure.
What causes corns and calluses?
Following from the last point, friction and pressure is the main cause of corns and calluses. So what causes this build up of friction and pressure?
1. Ill-fitting shoes
Shoes that are too tight, restrictive or the wrong size are the most likely culprit of these conditions. When you wear tight shoes, they rub up against the feet and your feet do not have the room they need to expand throughout the day as they naturally would. Many people are still wearing shoes that are the wrong size for their feet, which exacerbates this issue.
Many shoes like dress shoes or high-heels are poor choices for foot health. These shoes are very restrictive and are linked to foot conditions like corns and calluses.
2. Abnormal foot mechanics
If you have an abnormal gait or foot architecture, you may be more at risk of developing a corn or callus. For example, if your weight is shifted forward and you have a tendency to walk on the balls of your feet, this area will experience greater friction.
Plus, certain conditions like mechanical hyperkeratosis or bunions cause deformity of the foot. This exerts increased pressure to areas of the foot, which can also cause these conditions.
3. Not wearing socks
Socks have been designed for a reason! Sometimes having socks peeking through your shoes might not be the fashion goal you’re trying to achieve, but it’s important to wear socks to prevent excess rubbing of your feet on your shoes.
Wearing socks creates a barrier between your shoes and feet which easily prevents skin conditions like calluses. Socks are responsible for absorbing the moisture from our feet as we go through the day. Without them, this moisture increases the risk of rubbing and friction.
How to tell if you have a corn or callus
Some callusing of the skin on the feet is normal. The base of your heel should be slightly harder than skin in other areas of your body, because it is responsible for absorbing the impact of walking. This is, in fact, working to our advantage. Without some toughness on the feet, our feet would be more prone to injury and discomfort.
However, it’s important to know the difference between a little toughness and callusing. A callus will feel rock-hard. It may be tender to the touch, particularly if you apply pressure to it. You may visibly see dense patches of dry, cracked looking skin, or a yellowish tint to the skin. This is a giveaway that you are experiencing a callus.
A corn will be visible on the toes, and will have a cone-shaped appearance. It will likely be very painful to touch.
It’s important to assess whether you have a corn, callus, or something more serious. Plantar warts are often wrongfully identified as corns. They will not respond to the same treatment and can spread, so if your corn or callus isn’t responding to your efforts, seek out a doctor or podiatrist.
How to treat and prevent corns and calluses
1. Wear shoes that promote good foot health
Wear shoes that support your feet for all its endeavors. That is, shoes that offer arch support, room for your toes to splay out and expand throughout the day, quality comfort, and correct sizing options.
When you wear high quality footwear, you are less likely to experience foot conditions like corns or calluses. Check out FitMyFoot custom insoles and expert-designed footwear.
2. Soak your feet
There’s a reason why every pedicure starts with a little foot soaking! It causes skin softening, which can then be followed up with filing to reduce the toughness of a corn or callus.
3. Apply lotion
Use a lotion specifically for corns and calluses. It may contain an acid like salicylic acid to help remove the dead skin in the area. These conditions require additional hydration, so applying lotion daily can help to relieve pain.