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Definition

A callus is a thickening of the skin where it regularly rubs against something. For example, a callus may form on a finger due to pressure from a pen or pencil stringed instrument. On the feet, calluses may be caused movement against the inside of shoes.

A corn is a protective thickening of the skin on the top of the foot. It is usually on a bony, knobby area of a toe and can be painful. Firm, dry corns that form on the surface of a toe are called hard corns. Moist corns that form between the toes are called soft corns.

A Corn

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Causes

Calluses and corns form as protective pads of skin in response to repeated friction or pressure. Common causes of calluses include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Using tools
  • Playing a stringed instrument
  • Running long distances
  • Walking on hard surfaces without shoes
  • Kneeling to lay carpet or tile

Common causes of corns include:

  • Foot abnormality that pushes bony area against footwear
  • Wearing tight, poorly-fitting shoes
  • Wearing socks that bunch around toes or with seams that rub against the toes

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the risk of calluses and corns include:

  • Professions or physical activities that cause repeated friction or pressure on the skin
  • Tight footwear and narrow shoes
  • Foot deformities, such as bunion or hammer toe

Symptoms

Symptoms of calluses include:

  • Rough, thickened area of skin
  • Painless or minor pain
  • Yellow in color

Symptoms of corns include:

  • A small, usually painful bump over bony area on or between toes
  • Center may be dense knot of skin
  • Can cause pain when walking

Large corns or calluses may have some bleeding in space between thick and normal skin. It will cause some brown, red, or black to appear in them. Some corns and calluses may pull away from normal skin. It can open the skin and increase the risk of infection.

Diagnosis

The doctor can diagnose a callus or corn by a visual exam. They will ask about any other foot problems and health issues like diabetes or circulation problems. The doctor may inspect the feet for:

  • Toe deformities
  • Problems with structure of foot bones
  • Poor bone alignment
  • Problems with walking pattern

Treatment

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.

Self-Care

For calluses:

  • Wear gloves, thick socks, or padding to protect your skin.
  • If needed, thin the callus by rubbing with a pumice stone while bathing.

For corns:

  • 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.

Podiatrist

A foot specialist may help if the callus or corn is interfering with walking. The doctor may be able to find what is causing the callus or corn. Special padding or shoe inserts may relieve pain. Some of the callus or corn tissue may be shaved off with a scalpel to ease pressure on area.

Severe foot deformities may need surgery to correct them.

Prevention

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.
RESOURCES:

American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society
http://www.aofas.org

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org

REFERENCES:

Corns. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/corns/. Accessed January 26, 2021.

Corns and calluses. Harvard Medical School website. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/corns-and-calluses. Published May 2014. Accessed January 26, 2021.

Last reviewed November 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardNicole S. Meregian, PA  Last Updated: 1/26/2021