Calluses and Corns
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Calluses and Corns

What are calluses and corns?

Calluses and corns are thickened areas of skin caused by rubbing (friction) or pressure. The outer layer of skin thickens to protect the bone under the skin with extra padding. Calluses most often occur on feet and hands. Corns are a type of small callus that occur on or between toes.

What causes calluses and corns?

Calluses and corns on the feet can be caused by friction or pressure from:

  • Shoes that don’t fit well

  • Foot bones that are not in a normal position

  • A lot of physical activity, such as daily running

Calluses on hands can be caused by friction from:

  • Weightlifting

  • Playing a musical instrument

  • Using tools

  • Playing tennis

  • Gardening

  • Farm work, carpentry, and other work with your hands

Who is at risk for calluses and corns?

You are more at risk for calluses and corns if you:

  • Are very physically active

  • Wear shoes that don’t fit well

  • Don’t wear socks with shoes

  • Have other foot problems

  • Play a musical instrument

  • Work with your hands

What are the symptoms of calluses and corns?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person.

Calluses

Calluses are often painless, thick areas of skin that form on the hands and feet. 

  • Calluses on the hand. These often form on the palm just under the fingers, and on the soft undersides of the fingers.

  • Calluses on the foot. These grow on the bottom of the foot or on the outer edge of a toe or heel. A callus may spread across the ball of your foot. This type of callus is often because of a problem with a metatarsal. This is the long bone at the base of a toe, near the ball of the foot. A pinch callus may grow along the outer edge of the heel or the big toe. Some calluses press up into the foot instead of spreading on the outside. A callus may form a central core or plug of tissue where pressure is greatest.

Corns

Corns can be painful. Corns often grow on top of the foot, often at the toe joint. Corns can range from a slight thickening of skin to a painful soft or hard bump. They often form on top of buckled toe joints (hammer toes). If your toes curl under, corns may grow on the tips of your toes. You may also get a corn on the end of a toe if it rubs against your shoe. Corns can also grow between toes, often between the first and second toes. Sometimes, corns are confused with warts.

The symptoms of calluses and corns can look like other health conditions. See your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How are calluses and corns diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and health history. He or she will give you a physical exam. The physical exam will include closely examining your skin where the callus or corn has formed. The provider may also ask about your shoes and physical activity. No lab tests are needed.

How are calluses and corns treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, your age, and your general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment for corns and calluses can include:

  • Trimming the skin. Your healthcare provider may advise using a nail file or pumice stone to reduce the skin on a corn or callus. You may be told to do this after the skin is softened in a bath or shower. In some cases, your healthcare provider may use a sharp tool to trim away the outer layers of skin that make up the corn or callus.

  • Salicylic acid. You may put salicylic acid on the corn or callus to soften and remove some layers of skin.

  • Urea cream. You may use this to thin out the skin.

  • Padding. Moleskin patches or soft pads can help protect the skin where corns and calluses form, and reduce pain and rubbing.

  • Cortisone injection. Cortisone medicine can be injected into a painful corn or callus to reduce pain.

  • Changing shoes. If you have corns, your healthcare provider may advise wearing shoes that have more toe room. This will help prevent your toes rubbing against the top of the shoe.

  • Wearing shoe inserts. If you have calluses, wearing a cushioned insole, arch support, or heel counter can help reduce friction. Orthotics are special inserts for shoes that are come in different shapes and sizes to help with foot problems. They can help cushion calluses or move pressure away from problem areas where calluses form. Orthotics can help limit existing problems and prevent new ones from starting.

  • Surgery. If a bone or joint is out of place, certain parts of your foot may be under too much pressure. This can cause severe corns and calluses. In such cases, surgery may be the best way to correct the problem. In most cases, surgery to improve foot bone position is an outpatient procedure. This means you go home the same day. Your doctor may cut away extra bone, reposition larger bones, or even attach (fuse) joints together. In some cases, tendons or ligaments are cut to reduce tension on a bone or joint. Your healthcare provider will talk with you about the surgery that will work best for you.

Talk with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all treatments.

What are possible complications of calluses and corns? 

Severe calluses or corns may hurt, become infected, harm healthy tissue, or affect your ability to walk. If you have diabetes, calluses and corns may lead to more problems with your feet. Examine your feet daily to look for sores or other signs of infection.

Can calluses and corns be prevented?

You can prevent calluses and corns by removing the cause of the friction or pressure.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call the healthcare provider if you have:

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse

  • New symptoms

  • Sores or signs of infection on your feet, such as redness, warmth, or fluid leaking

  • Pain

Key points about calluses and corns

  • Calluses and corns are thickened areas of skin caused by rubbing (friction) or pressure. The outer layer of skin thickens to protect the bone under the skin with extra padding.

  • Calluses most often occur on feet and hands. Corns are a type of small callus that occur on or between toes.

  • Calluses are often painless. Corns can be painful.

  • Severe calluses or corns may hurt, become infected, harm healthy tissue, or affect your ability to walk.

  • Treatment for corns and calluses can include trimming the skin, using padding, using medicines for the skin, or changing shoes. In some cases, surgery may help.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kevin Berman, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2018
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.