A callus is an abnormal thickening of the top layer of skin, which is composed of the natural protein, keratin. Calluses can form on areas that are repeatedly exposed to friction or pressure. They are usually painless or only mildly painful.
A corn is a small, well-defined, thickened area of skin that forms on the toes. Corns put pressure on the underlying skin against the bone. They are usually inflamed and painful.
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Calluses and corns form as protective pads of skin in response to repeated friction or pressure. Causes include:
Calluses—Any activity that applies repeated friction or pressure to an area of skin, including:
- Lifting weights
- Using tools
- Playing a stringed instrument
- Running long distances
- Walking on hard surfaces without shoes
- On knees: Kneeling to lay carpet or tile
- On hands:
Corns—Any activity or condition that applies repeated friction or pressure to the skin over toes or other bones, including:
- Presence of foot abnormality causing a protrusion that rubs against footwear
- Wearing poorly-fitting shoes
- Wearing socks that bunch around toes or with seams that rub against the toes
Factors that may increase the risk of calluses and corns include:
- Professions or physical activities that cause repeated friction or pressure on the skin
- Poorly-fitting footwear
- Foot deformities, such as bunion or hammer toe
Symptoms of calluses include:
- Rough, thickened area of skin
- Painless or slight degree of pain, burning sensation
- Yellow or reddish in color
Symptoms of corns include:
- A small, usually painful bump over bony prominence, on the side or the top of a toe, or between toes
- Yellow or reddish in color
The skin where a corn or callus has formed will be examined. Diagnosis is based on symptoms and visual observation of the corn or callus. They are easily distinguished by:
- Location—Corns usually only form over bony prominence, on a toe, or between toes; while calluses can form over any area where there is rubbing
- Degree of pain—Corns are usually quite painful, while calluses are usually painless or only slightly painful
A scalpel may be used to remove layers of the skin to make sure that it is a corn or callus, rather than a wart.
Treatment of calluses and corns usually include self-care and medication. In severe cases, minor surgery may be necessary. People with diabetes or circulatory problems should always see a doctor or podiatrist for treatment because self-treatment may lead to severe infection for these individuals.
- Wear gloves, thick socks, or padding to protect your skin.
- If needed, thin the callus by rubbing with a pumice stone while bathing.
- Wear properly fitting shoes.
- Remove bunching or irritating stitching of socks, or any other irritant.
- If needed, thin the corn by rubbing with a pumice stone while bathing.
- Try using doughnut-shaped corn pads, which may relieve pressure on corns.
Applying keratin-dissolving medication (such as salicylic acid) can help dissolve calluses and corns more quickly. Apply medication carefully, since it contains acid that may damage nearby healthy skin.
In severe cases, calluses and corns may need to be shaved off with a scalpel. More extensive surgery may be needed to correct foot deformities that cause extremely painful or debilitating corns.
To prevent calluses:
- Avoid activities that apply repeated friction or pressure to the skin.
- Wear gloves, thick socks, or padding over the affected area of the skin.
To prevent corns:
- Wear properly fitted shoes.
- Wear properly fitted socks with no irritating stitching.
American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Corns. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/corns/. Updated September 2012. Accessed February 26, 2018.
Corns and calluses. Harvard Medical School website. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/corns-and-calluses. Published May 2014. Accessed February 26, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Alan Drabkin, MD Last Updated: 1/13/2014