Foot Corns & Calluses

Written By: Chloe Wilson BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed By: FPE Medical Review Board

Foot Corns & Calluses: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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".

Corns and calluses are generally not a serious problem and can be easily treated with a combination of good foot hygiene, medication and orthotics. However occasionally they become infected or cause ulcers in which case surgery may be necessary. 

Here we will look at the different types of foot corns and calluses, the common causes, best treatments options and how to prevent them from coming back again. 

What Are Foot 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. 

Foot calluses  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.

What Are Foot Corns?

Foot corns tend to be smaller, more defined and are circular in shape than calluses.  They are usually yellow/white in colour and have a transparent plug in the centre.  Corns press into deeper layers of skin which causes damage and can make them very painful.  In severe cases, foot corns can cause ulceration. 

Corns on feet tend to develop either on the top, at the side or in-between toes. There are two main types of foot corns:

Hard foot corns tend to develop on the top and side of the toes. Find out about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of foot corns
  • Hard Corns
    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, aka Heloma Durum, 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 
Soft foot corns tend to develop between the toes. Find out about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of foot corns
  • Soft Corns
    Soft corns, aka Heloma Molle, look different being white and rubbery.  They are usually indented in the middle. 

    These foot corns 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. 

Common Causes of Corns on Feet

Calluses and corns on feet develop due to constant or repetitive pressure and friction on the skin.  The most common causes of foot corns and calluses are:

Wearing high heels or pointed shoes can increase your risk of developing foot corns and calluses
  • 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

  • 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
  • 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

  • Aging: 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

  • Gender: Helomas are more common in women than men

How Are They Diagnosed?

Your doctor can normally diagnose calluses and foot corns 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.

How Do You Treat Corns & Calluses

Treatment for foot corns and callsues aims to alleviate the symptoms and to cure the underlying cause  to prevent them from coming back again. Typical foot corn treatment consists of:

Pumice Stone

You can gradually, gently rub away areas of hardened skin with the foot corn or calluse 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, shoes should have a rounded, wide toe box, have a soft top, be one centimeter 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.

Shoe Inserts

Foam wedges and toe spacers can help to prevent foot corns 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 which can be particularly useful with calluses.  Lanolin is one of the most effective.

Trimming/Paring Down

A podiatrist can use a scalpel to remove your foot corns 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.


Chemical plasters or patches can be used to treat foot corns

You doctor or podiatrist may apply a special form of salicylic acid which breaks down the hard skin, softening your foot corn.  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.

Check out these popular corn treatments and what people say about them.


Occasionally the skin around corns on feet can become infected in which case it will be red and sore.  This can be cleared up with a course of antibiotics, prescribed by your doctor.


If you get recurrent helomas due to a foot abnormality such as bunions, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct the bony deformity.

How Do You Prevent Corns On Your Feet?

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 foot calluses and corns developing:

  • Keep Feet Clean: Wash your feet daily and always dry thoroughly in between your toes

  • Moisturise: Apply moisturiser to your heels and the ball of your foot, but don’t apply it in between your toes

  • Lose Excess Weight: Reduces the pressure going through your feet

  • Pumice Stone: Use a pumice stone regularly to remove heloma areas of thickened skin

  • Wear Clean Socks: Change your socks daily and air your feet at night to stop feet becoming sweaty
  • Regular Foot Checks: If you are elderly or suffer from Diabetes, you should get your feet checked regularly by a specialist as you are more prone to developing foot problems

  • 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

  • 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 occurrence of foot corns

What Else Can Help?

Visit the toe separators section to read reviews of how they can help treat and prevent foot corns and calluses. 

Foot corns are just one possible cause of pain in the toes. Visit the toe pain section to find out more about other problems that can affect the toes.

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Page Last Updated: 23/08/20
Next Review Due: 23/08/22