Corns and calluses

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Corns and calluses are areas of thick, dry skin that develop when skin is exposed to excessive pressure or friction. 

They are very common foot problems that can cause pain when you walk.

Corns

Corns are small circles of thick skin that usually develop on the tops and sides of toes. The two main types are:

  • Hard corns (most common). These are pea-sized and have a small, hard plug of skin in the centre. The plug can press into the skin and cause pain and swelling. Hard corns often occur over a bony area such as the little toe.
  • Soft corns. These are whitish and rubbery in texture and appear between the toes where the skin is moist from sweat or trapped moisture. They are extremely painful and can sometimes become infected by bacteria or fungi.

Rarer types are:

  • Seed corns. These are clusters of small, usually painless corns on the bottom of the foot.
  • Vascular corns. These develop on blood vessels and bleed if they are cut.
  • Fibrous corns. These have been present for a long time and become attached to the deeper layers of skin.

Corns are often seen on the feet of women who wear badly fitting shoes or who stand a lot during the day.

They can also occur on bony feet or as a symptom of other foot problems, such as a bunion (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, yellowy or pale areas of skin that can feel rough. They are often wider and larger than a corn and do not have such a defined edge.

Calluses can appear where the skin rubs against something, such as a bone, a shoe or the ground. They often form over the ball of your foot, which takes a lot of your weight when you walk (especially when you wear high-heeled shoes). Because the skin is thick, it can be less sensitive to touch than the surrounding skin. 

Calluses can also occur on the side of the foot, palms and knuckles.

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Corns and calluses develop when skin 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, while shoes that are too loose can allow your foot to slide and rub. Corns are often found 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 (bony swelling at the base of the toe) or hammer toe (where the toe is bent at the middle joint).

Calluses

Feet

When we walk or stand, our body weight is carried first on the heel and then on the ball of the foot. When this pressure becomes excessive, these areas of skin thicken to protect the underlying tissue and calluses may appear.

Actions that put repeated pressure on the foot (such as jogging) or walking barefoot can cause calluses to form. Athletes are particularly susceptible to them.

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

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

Other areas

Calluses may also occur on the palms of the hands from holding a racquet or hammer, or on the knuckle pads if you regularly have to push yourself out of a wheelchair.

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

If you find standing or walking painful, or if calluses or corns become cracked and prone to infection, consult your GP, practice nurse or  chiropodist (podiatrist).

The affected skin will be examined and you may be asked how much time you spend standing on your feet, your usual type of footwear and whether your feet are painful. 

If it appears there could be a problem with the underlying bone structure, you may be referred for an X-ray.

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Treatment for painful corns and calluses involves removing the pressure or cause of friction. This gives the affected area time to heal and prevents the corn or callus from recurring. This may mean wearing comfortable, flat shoes instead of high-heeled shoes, or wearing leather gloves when doing repetitive tasks to help calluses on the hands to heal.

Removing the hard skin

Your GP may refer you to a chiropodist (podiatrist) for treatment of the affected skin. They may cut away some of the thickened skin using a special blade, which relieves some of the pressure on the underlying tissues.

Never attempt to cut the corn or callus yourself. You can use a pumice stone to rub down skin that is getting thick.

Products

There are many products available from pharmacists that allow thick, hard skin to heal and any pressure to be redistributed. Ask your GP, chiropodist or pharmacist to recommend the right one for you. Products include:

  • special creams that can rehydrate the thick skin
  • protective corn plasters
  • customised soft padding or foam insoles
  • small foam wedges to place between your toes (to relieve soft corns)
  • special silicone wedges that change the position of the toes or redistribute pressure

Infected corns

Infected corns, such as those with pus or clear liquid, will need to be examined by your GP, who will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics and may drain the pus and remove the affected skin.

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

  • Wash your feet each evening with soap and water and use a scrubbing brush.
  • Dry your feet thoroughly after washing them and apply a special moisturising foot cream (not body lotion).
  • Choose appropriate footwear, such as well-fitting, comfortable flat shoes.
  • Never put up with foot pain as if it is normal.
  • If you can, see a chiropodist for a foot check every six months.
  • Use a pumice stone or foot file regularly to gently remove hard skin. If you use a pumice stone, make sure it dries completely between uses and does not harbour bacteria.
  • Change your socks and tights every day to ensure your feet stay as fresh as possible.
  • Shop for shoes in the afternoon as feet swell as the day goes on. If shoes fit in the afternoon when your feet are at their largest, you can be sure that they will be comfortable.

Content provided by NHS Choices www.nhs.uk and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

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