Corns and callus are hard  thickened areas of skin that form as a consequence of rubbing friction or pressure on the skin.

Corns or callus when formed on the feet can make walking painful. Although corns and callus are often talked about together, they are separate conditions. Corns can occur anywhere on the foot, commonly on the tops and sides of the toes.

A SOFT corn is one that develops between the toes and is so called because moisture develops and keeps the skin soft.  A HARD corn is a small patch of thickened, dead skin with a small plug of skin in the centre.  A soft corn has a much thinner surface, appears whitish and rubbery, and usually occurs between the toes.

Seed corns appear as clusters of tiny corns (looking like seeds) that can be very tender if they are on a weight-bearing part of the foot. Seed corns tend to occur on the bottom of the feet and one theory believes that  this condition is caused by blocked sweat ducts.

Callus or Callosities are hard and rough-feeling areas of skin that can develop on hands, feet or anywhere there is repeated friction or pressure- even on a violinist’s chin! Like corns, callus has several variants. The common callus usually occurs when there has been a lot of rubbing against the hands or feet.  A plantar callus is found on the bottom of the foot.

What causes corns and callus?

Some corns and callus on the feet develop from an improper walking motion or gait but most are caused by ill-fitting shoes. High-heeled shoes are the worst offenders. They put pressure on the toes and make women four times as likely as men to have foot problems.

Other risk factors for developing a corn or callus include foot deformities and wearing shoes or sandals without socks, which leads to friction on the feet.

Rubbing or pressure can cause either soft corns or plantar callus. If you or your child develops a callus that has no clear source of pressure, have it looked at by a doctor or a podiatrist, since it could be a wart or be caused by a foreign body – such as a splinter – trapped under the skin.

Feet spend most of their time in a closed, moist environment, which is ideal for breeding fungal and bacterial infections. Staph (bacterial) infections can start when bacteria enter corns through breaks in the skin and cause the infected skin to discharge fluid or pus.

What are the symptoms of corns and calluses?

  • A callus is a patch of compact, dead skin anywhere on the body that is subject to friction. There are different common names given to various types of callus.
  • A hard corn is a compact patch of hard skin with a dense core, located on top of a toe or the outside of the little toe.Contrary to popular belief it does not grow from a root but does grow deep and press on to nerve endings,hence why they can be so painful.
  • A soft corn is a reddened, moist,tender area of skin that has a thin, smooth centre and is found between toes.
  • A seed corn is a plug-like circle of dead skin, often painful, on the heel or ball of the foot.
  • A plantar callus is a callus on the bottom ( plantar ) surface of the foot.

Go to see your podiatrist if:

  • You cut a corn or callus and cause it to bleed. The break in the skin invites infection.
  • A corn discharges pus or clear fluid, which means it may be infected or ulcerated. Both conditions require prompt medical attention.
  • You develop a corn and you have diabetes, heart disease or other circulatory problems. You run a high risk of developing an infection.

How do I know if I have a corn or a wart?

To find out whether a hard patch of skin is a corn or a wart your Podiatrist, a foot specialist ,is best placed to make the correct diagnosis and will examine the affected area. Warts are viral and often have black dots present in the affected skin. They also require specific treatment. Most callosities are corrected by a variety of measures, including a change in shoes,the wearing of a corrective,pressure relieving insole ,removal of the callus by your Podiatrist and by the regular use of a footfile during bathing.

What are the treatments for corns and calluses?

Most corns or callus gradually disappear when the friction or pressure stops.Your Podiatrist can remove the top of a callus to reduce the thickness. Properly positioned padding can help relieve pressure on a corn.

Oral antibiotics generally clear up infected corns, but pus may have to be drained through a small incision. Moisturising creams can help soften the skin and remove cracked or fissured callus. Using a pumice stone first to rub off the dead skin from a callus after a bath or shower and then applying moisturising cream can also be effective.

There are also stronger creams containing urea that might be more effective, but do not use these unless recommended by your doctor or podiatrist. Do not use hydrocortisone creams, which only help with rashes and itching and are not needed for calluses.

Moisturising your skin incorrectly can aggravate a fungal condition and should be avoided – especially avoid moisturising between the toes. This area  is already moist enough.

Keep your feet dry and friction-free. Wear properly fitted shoes and cotton socks, rather than wool or synthetic fibres that might irritate the skin. If a podiatrist (a foot specialist) or orthopaedic specialist (a bone and joint specialist) thinks your corn or callus is caused by abnormal foot structure, your walking motion or hip rotation, orthopaedic shoe inserts or surgery to correct foot deformities may help correct the problem.(Go to section on Biomechanics for more details)

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