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Corns and Calluses

What are corns and calluses?

Corns and calluses are areas of tough, thickened skin caused by pressure or friction. Calluses usually appear on the palms, fingertips, or soles of the feet. Corns are smaller than calluses and form on the toes.

How do they occur?

Corns and calluses on the feet can be caused by:

  • new, tight, or poorly fitting shoes
  • sandals or shoes worn without socks, which leads to friction
  • high-heeled shoes
  • high arches in your feet that put pressure on the tips of your toes when you walk
  • any physical deformity that distributes your weight unevenly when you walk
  • protruding bones
  • not enough flesh cushioning the bones of your feet.

Calluses are often associated with certain types of work or sports. Tennis and baseball players develop calluses on their hands, manual laborers on their hands, joggers on the soles of their feet, and violinists and guitarists on their fingertips. For some activities it may be good to have calluses because they help keep you from getting blisters.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of corns and calluses include:

  • a hard, tough area of thickened skin
  • tenderness or pain under the skin.

How are they diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you. You may have an X-ray to see if you have any physical deformity that could cause a corn or callus.

How are they treated?

You may need to see a foot doctor or orthopedic surgeon if:

  • a corn or callus does not heal and is painful
  • a corn or callus tends to crack open and is a possible site for infection.

The doctor or surgeon may:

  • Remove the thickened skin.
  • Recommend surgery if you have a fixable physical deformity, such as a prominent or misshapen bone, that causes the corn or callus to form.
  • Fit you with a special insert for your shoe.

How long will the effects last?

Corns and calluses usually go away in 1 to 4 weeks after:

  • You stop the activity that caused a callus.
  • You stop wearing problem shoes.
  • You start a program to protect or soften the skin. (See how to take care of yourself below.)

How can I take care of myself?

Wear comfortable shoes until the corn or callus disappears.

If your general state of health is good, you may want to try one of the following measures (diabetics and older adults should consult their healthcare provider first):

  • Use a file or pumice stone to rub away excess skin and soften it. It works best to do this after bathing. Keep doing this daily until the callus or corn disappears. Wear a protective pad on the area to keep the problem from returning.
  • Apply a plaster (40% salicylic acid) a little larger than the affected spot to soften the corn or callus. Then put a felt pad or corn ring on the area to relieve pressure. (You can buy these at your local drugstore. Ask the pharmacist about proper use if you have questions.) Leave the plaster and pad in place for 1 to 7 days, depending on the thickness of the corn or callus.
  • Apply a skin-softening cream to help the skin return to normal and to prevent cracking of the corn or callus.

If you have diabetes, it is very important to take excellent care of your feet. Injury to your feet is a possible source of infection, chronic sores, and skin ulcers. If you have corns and calluses, check with your healthcare provider to get them treated safely. Then ask your provider to teach you how to prevent corns and calluses in the future and how to care for your feet every day at home. You may need to see a foot specialist (called a podiatrist).

How can I help prevent corns and calluses?

It may be difficult to prevent calluses from developing on your hands and fingers, depending on how you use them. In some cases it is good to have calluses because they may keep you from getting blisters caused by certain activities.

Corns and calluses on your feet are generally the most bothersome. You can avoid getting them or help prevent them from returning if you:

  • Wear shoes that fit properly and are designed for comfortable walking, running, or standing.
  • Wear a protective pad where you had a callus before to help keep it from coming back.
  • Have corrective surgery if you have a deformity that causes calluses to develop.
  • Have a shoe custom made for you if you cannot correct a deformity.
  • Use a skin cream to keep the skin soft.

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File derm3174.htm Release 13/2010

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