Corns and calluses

Corns and calluses are areas of hard, thickened skin that develop when the skin is exposed to excessive pressure or friction.

Introduction

Corns and calluses are areas of hard, thickened skin that develop when the skin is exposed to excessive pressure or friction. They commonly occur on the feet and can cause pain and discomfort when you walk.

Corns

Corns are small circles of thick skin that usually develop on the tops and sides of toes or on the sole of the foot. However, they can occur anywhere.

Women often get them if they've been wearing badly fitting shoes or spent a lot of time standing during the day.

Corns often occur on bony feet as there's a lack of natural cushioning. They can also develop as a symptom of another foot problem, such as a bunion (a bony swelling at the base of the big toe) or hammer toe (where the toe is bent at the middle joint).

Calluses

Calluses are hard, rough areas of skin that are often yellowish in colour. They can develop on your foot, most often around the heel area or over the ball of the foot.

They can also develop on the palms of the hands and knuckles.

Calluses are larger than corns and do not have such a well-defined edge. As callused skin is thick, it is often less sensitive to touch than the surrounding skin.

Calluses develop when the skin rubs against something, such as a bone, a shoe or the ground. They often form over the ball of your foot because this area takes most of your weight when you walk. This is particularly the case in women who regularly wear high heels.

Excessive pressure on bony areas of the foot, badly fitting shoes and lots of walking or running are all possible causes of calluses.

Treating corns and calluses

If you have a corn on your foot, you should see a podiatrist, also known as a chiropodist, who can advise you about treatment.

Corns on feet will not get better unless the cause of the pressure is removed. If the cause is not removed, the skin will become thicker and more painful over time.

A corn is a symptom of an underlying problem. You should only treat it yourself when you know what has caused it and after you have spoken to a specialist about the best way to manage it.

Over-the-counter treatments for corns, such as corn plasters, are available from pharmacists. However, they do not treat the cause of the corn and may affect the normal, thinner skin surrounding the corn.

Corn plasters may not be suitable for certain people, such as those with diabetes, circulation problems or fragile skin.

As with corns, you should only treat calluses yourself after a podiatrist has identified the cause and advised you about treatment.

The podiatrist may be able to treat corns or badly callused areas using a sharp blade to remove the thickened area of skin. This is painless and should help reduce pain and discomfort.

Read more about treating corns and calluses.

Causes

Corns and calluses can develop when the affected area of the foot is exposed to excessive pressure or friction.

Corns

Corns are usually caused by pressure on the foot from poorly fitting shoes.

High-heeled shoes can squeeze the toes, and shoes that are too loose can allow your foot to slide and rub. Corns often develop on the little toe, which tends to rub against the end of the shoe.

People who have misshapen feet or prominent bones in their feet are susceptible to corns. Corns may be an indication of a bunion (a bony swelling at the base of the toe) or hammer toe (where the toe is bent at the middle joint).

Calluses

When you walk or stand, your body weight is carried first on the heel and then on the ball of your foot. When the pressure in one of these areas becomes excessive, the skin thickens to protect the underlying tissue and calluses may develop.

Activities that put repeated pressure on the foot, such as running or walking barefoot, can cause calluses to form. Athletes are particularly susceptible to them.

Some people develop calluses as a result of their skin type. Elderly people have less fatty tissue in their skin, which can cause a lack of padding and can cause a callus to form on the ball of the foot.

As with corns, calluses are sometimes an indication of a bone deformity, such as a bunion (a bony swelling at the base of the toe).

As well as forming on the feet, calluses can also sometimes develop on the palms of the hands from holding an object such as a racquet or hammer. They can also develop on the knuckle pads if you regularly have to push yourself out of a wheelchair.

Treatment

Treating painful corns and calluses involves removing the cause of the pressure or friction and getting rid of the thickened skin.

You may be advised to wear comfortable, flat shoes instead of high-heeled shoes. If calluses develop on the hands, wearing protective gloves when doing repetitive tasks will give the affected area time to heal.

If you're not sure what's causing a corn or callus, see your doctor. They may refer you to a podiatrist (also called a chiropodist). Podiatrists specialise in diagnosing and treating foot problems. They will examine the affected area and recommend appropriate treatment.

See below for more information about podiatry and how to access it on the NHS.

Hard skin removal

A podiatrist may cut away some of the thickened skin using a sharp blade called a scalpel. This will help relieve the pressure on the tissue underneath.

Do not try to cut the corn or callus yourself. You could make it more painful and it might become infected. You can use a pumice stone or foot file to rub down skin that is getting thick.

Read more about preventing corns and calluses.

Foot care products

Pharmacies sell a range of products that allow thick, hard skin to heal and excessive pressure to be redistributed. Ask your doctor, podiatrist or pharmacist to recommend the right product for you.

Examples of products that can be used to treat corns and calluses include:

  • special rehydration creams for thickened skin
  • protective corn plasters
  • customised soft padding or foam insoles
  • small foam wedges that are placed between the toes to help relieve soft corns
  • special silicone wedges that change the position of your toes or redistribute pressure

Podiatry

Your case will be assessed individually, which may affect how long you will need to wait to be seen. For example, people with severe diabetes are often given priority because the condition can cause serious foot problems to develop.

If you decide to contact a podiatrist yourself, make sure they are fully qualified and registered with the Health Professionals Council (HPC), and that they are an accredited member of one of the following organisations:

  • British Chiropody and Podiatry Association
  • The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists
  • Institute of Chiropodists and Podiatrists

Prevention

Looking after your feet will help prevent problems such as corns and calluses.

Follow the advice below to help stop any hard, dry skin developing:

  • Dry your feet thoroughly after washing them and apply a special moisturising foot cream (not body lotion).
  • Use a pumice stone or foot file regularly to gently remove hard skin. If you use a pumice stone, make sure that it dries completely between uses and does not harbour bacteria.
  • Wear comfortable footwear that fits properly. Always shop for shoes in the afternoon because your feet swell as the day goes on. This means shoes that fit in the afternoon will be comfortable.
  • Do not put up with foot pain as if it is normal. See your podiatrist directly or see your doctor who may refer you to a podiatrist. They will be able to investigate the underlying cause of your foot pain.
Content supplied by NHS Choices