Foot corns and calluses are small areas of thick, raised, hardened skin
that cause pain. They develop when there
is excessive friction or pressure on the skin, usually from ill-fitting shoes
or from lots of walking. The medical term for a foot corn is a "Heloma Molle".
They are generally not a serious problem and can be easily treated, but occasionally they become infected or cause ulcers.
Let's start with calluses. A callus is an area of thickened, hardened skin, which is usually painless. When the skin is exposed to excessive friction or pressure, it lays down extra layers to try and protect itself – a callus.
A callus can cover a large area but it is usually painless. They generally appear on the sole of the foot (underneath part) particularly around the toes as lots of your weight goes through these parts when you walk.
Foot corns differ to calluses. They tend to be smaller, more defined and are circular in shape. They are usually yellow/white in colour and have a transparent plug in the centre. They press into deeper layers of skin which causes damage and can make them very painful. In severe cases, they cause ulceration.
Foot corns tend to develop either on the top, at the side or in-between toes. There are two main types of foot corn:
1) Hard Corns (Heloma Durum): These are the most common. They are small, pale or yellow areas of raised, hardened skin, approximately pea-sized surrounded by a wider area of thickened skin. Hard corns on feet tend to occur over bony areas such as on top of the toes (usually the outer ones), on the side of the little toe or the ball of the foot. They usually develop due to friction from shoes
2) Soft Corns (Heloma Molle): These look different being white and rubbery. They are usually indented in the middle. They are softened by moisture, usually from sweat or from not drying your feet properly. They tend to occur in-between the toes, usually the fourth and fifth toe when the toes rub against each other.
Calluses and corns on feet develop due to constant or repetitive pressure and friction on the skin. The most common causes are:
1) Ill-fitting Footwear: if your shoes are too tight, or if you frequently wear high-heels, particularly ones with a narrow toe box, the toes get squashed
2) Altered Foot Shape: Foot deformities such as hammer toe, mallet toe, claw toe and bunions make your bones more prominent and therefore more prone to friction resulting in heloma formation
3) Being On Your Feet: If you are standing for long periods, run frequently or walk barefoot, you are more likely to develop foot corns and calluses
4) Ageing: as we age, our skin gets thinner with less fatty tissue so there is less padding on the soles of our feet, making them more likely to develop
5) Gender: Helomas are more common in women than men
Your doctor can normally diagnose calluses and helomas by asking about your lifestyle and looking at your feet and footwear. They may want to do X-rays if they suspect there may be an underlying problem with the bone which is causing your corns on feet. Occasionally, they may perform a biopsy.
Treatment aims to alleviate the symptoms and to cure the underlying cause of the foot corn or callus to prevent them from coming back again. Typical treatment may include:
You can gradually, gently rub away areas of hardened skin using a pumice stone. It helps to soak the foot for about 15-20 minutes first to soften the skin
There should be adequate space in your shoes to prevent friction. Ideally, they should have a rounded, wide toe box, have a soft top, be one centimetre longer than your longest toe and be flat (less than 4cm heel). If you have foot abnormalities, your podiatrist can advise you about specially designed shoes
Foam wedges and toe spacers can help to prevent helomas developing
between your toes, and soft insoles reduce pressure on the bottom of the
foot. A podiatrist will be able to advise you what products would best
suit you. Visit the Toe Separators section to find out how they can help reduce corns and calluses as well as to see user reviews.
You can get special creams designed to rehydrate areas of thick, dry skin. Lanolin is one of the most effective
A podiatrist can use a scalpel to remove your foot corn or callus. This should only ever be carried out by a trained professional. It is a painless procedure and people usually feel instant relief. The procedure may need to be repeated
You doctor or podiatrist may apply a special form of salicylic acid
which breaks down the hard skin, softening it. The skin becomes white
and you can then trim or peel away the dead skin so the foot corn no
longer sticks out.
Salicylic acid comes in different forms such as plasters, drops and pads and can be bought from a pharmacy but care should be taken when applying as they can burn healthy tissue. Only use them if directed by your doctor/podiatrist, and never use them if you suffer from diabetes or poor circulation as there is a risk of ulcer formation
Occasionally the skin around a foot corn becomes infected in which case it will be red and sore. This can be cleared up with a course of antibiotics
If you get recurrent helomas due to a foot abnormality such as bunions, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct the bony deformity
Foot corns and calluses often return if the cause of them is not properly addressed. There are a number of things you can do to prevent them from developing:
1) Keep Feet Clean: Wash your feet daily and always dry thoroughly in between your toes.
2) Moisturise: Apply moisturiser to your heels and the ball of your foot, but don’t apply it in between your toes
3) Lose Excess Weight: Reduces the pressure going through your feet
4) Pumice Stone: Use a pumice stone regularly to remove heloma areas of thickened skin
5) Wear Clean Socks: Change your socks daily and air your feet at night to stop feet becoming sweaty
6) Regular Foot Checks: If you are elderly or suffer from Diabetes, you should get your feet checked regularly by a specialist
7) Wear good-fitting Shoes: Shoes shoe be round toed, low heeled, supportive and soft. Feet tend to swell slightly during the day, so try to buy new footwear in the afternoon
8) Use Toe Stretchers: Gel inserts or specially designed socks help stretch the muscle and ligaments around the toes improving the natural shape of the feet. This can help to reduce the occurence of foot corns.
"Thank you so much! Your website is a
fountain of information! I was worrying about top of foot pain, and
your suggestions for strengthening and stretching are helping
"Your info took me straight to the problem. Well described and clearly explained."
"Thanks for having these exercises available! I performed a few and they have helped tremendously with my foot pain."
"Thank you for this information, it is very useful."
"Some really good suggestions and information"
"I have suffered these symptoms for over a year seen two doctors and a physio. None of them diagnosed this. Hope its not too late to put your advice into practice." Lezlee, UK
"Certainly it has helped me to understand and educate me on the issue."
"Very interesting! All good information. Tried a few stretches, already feels good."
"3 days ago I thought I was going to need foot surgery. I NEVER thought that stretching my calf would relieve the excruciating pain at the top of my foot. Thank you!!"