What are calluses and corns?
Calluses and corns are areas of thick, hardened, dead skin. They form to protect the skin and structures under the skin from pressure, friction, and injury. They may appear grayish or yellowish, be less sensitive to the touch than surrounding skin, and feel bumpy. Calluses on the hands and feet of an active person are normal. Calluses and corns become a problem when they grow large enough to cause pain.
- Calluses generally form on the hands or feet, although they may form wherever there is pressure on the skin, such as on the knees or elbows.
- Calluses on the hands generally form at the base of the fingers. They usually are not painful and may be useful. For example, a carpenter might develop calluses that protect his or her hands from scrapes and cuts while working. A tennis player might develop calluses on the palm that protect his or her hand from the pressure and friction of handling a tennis racket.
- Calluses on the feet generally form on the ball of the foot, the heel, and the underside of the big toe. They often form where the foot and the beginning of the toe meet (under the end of the metatarsal bone).
- Corns generally are found where toes rub together. Corns have an inner core that can be soft or hard. A soft corn is found between toes (usually the fourth and fifth toes), while a hard corn is often found over a bony part of a toe (usually the fifth toe).
See pictures of calluses and hard and soft corns.
What causes calluses and corns?
Calluses and corns are caused over a period of time by repeated pressure or friction on an area of skin. The pressure causes the skin to die and form a hard, protective surface. A soft corn is formed in the same way, except that when perspiration is trapped where the corn develops, the hard core softens. This generally occurs between toes. Calluses and corns are not caused by a virus and are not contagious.
Repeated handling of an object that puts pressure on the hand, such as tools (gardening hoe or hammer) or sports equipment (tennis racket), typically causes calluses on the hands.
Calluses and corns on the feet are often caused by pressure from footwear.
- Tight shoes squeeze the foot.
- High-heeled shoes squeeze the front part of the foot.
- Loose shoes may cause your foot to slide and rub against the shoe.
- Shoes with a thin sole can create more pressure on the ball of the foot when walking than do thicker-soled shoes.
- Wearing sandals and shoes without socks can lead to increased friction.
- The foot may rub against a seam or stitch inside the shoe.
- Socks that don't fit may result in pressure where a sock bunches up.
Walking barefoot also causes calluses.
Calluses and corns often develop on the bumps caused by rheumatoid arthritis or on bunions or hammer, claw, or mallet toes. Calluses and corns on the feet may also be caused by repeated pressure due to sports (such as a callus on the bottom of a runner's foot), an odd way of walking (abnormal gait), or an underlying bone structure, such as flat feet or bone spurs (small, bony growths that form along joints).
What are the symptoms?
You can tell you have a corn or callus by its appearance. A callus is hard, dry, and thick, and it may appear grayish or yellowish. It may be less sensitive to the touch than surrounding skin, and it may feel bumpy. A hard corn is also firm and thick. It may have a soft yellow ring with a gray center. A soft corn looks like an open sore.
Although calluses and corns often are not painful, they can cause pain when you are walking or wearing shoes, and they may make it hard for your feet to fit in your shoes. Any type of pressure applied to the callus or corn, such as squeezing it, can also cause pain.
How are calluses and corns diagnosed?
Calluses and corns generally are diagnosed during a physical exam. Your doctor may also ask you questions about your work, your hobbies, or the types of shoes you wear. An X-ray of the foot may be done if your doctor suspects a problem with the underlying bones.
How are they treated?
If you have diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, peripheral neuropathy, or other conditions that cause circulatory problems or numbness, talk to your doctor before trying any treatment for calluses or corns.
Calluses and corns do not need treatment unless they cause pain. If they do cause pain, the treatment goal is to remove the pressure or friction that is causing the callus or corn, to give it time to heal. This is done by wearing footwear that fits properly and using doughnut-shaped pads (such as moleskin) or other protective padding to cushion the callus or corn. Some other types of padding include toe separators, toe crest pads, and toe caps and toe sleeves. Also, the callus or corn can be softened and the dead skin can be removed by using products such as salicylic acid.
Your doctor may use a small knife to pare (trim) the callus or corn. You may reduce the size of the callus or corn yourself by soaking your foot in warm water and then using a pumice stone to rub the dead skin away. Never cut the corn or callus yourself, especially if you have diabetes or other conditions that cause circulatory problems or numbness. In some cases, surgery may be done to remove the callus or corn or to change the underlying bone structure.
How common are calluses and corns?
Most people get calluses and corns. They are seen more frequently in people with bony feet and in women, probably because women often wear shoes that create friction on the feet, such as high-heeled or thin-soled shoes.
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