Calluses and corns are areas of thick skin that result from form excessive pressure or friction over a boney prominence. When these areas develop on the bottom of the foot they are called calluses. When they occur on the top of the toes they are called corns. They can also occur between the toes, the back of the heels, and the top of the foot. The thickening of the skin is a normal body response to pressure or friction. Often times they are associated with a projection of bone called a bone spur. Not all areas of thickened skin are corns or calluses. Plantar warts, inclusion cysts, and porokeratoses also cause a discreet thickening of the skin that resembles corns and calluses.
The most common area for the formation of calluses on the bottom of the foot is in the area of the ball of the foot. This is a weight-bearing area where the long bones behind the toes called metatarsals, bear the greatest amount of weight and pressure. If one or more of these long bones (metatarsals) is out of alignment then excessive pressure is generated in the area producing a callous. The calloused area can be very discreet and have a “core” or they can be more dispersed covering a larger area. These areas can become quite painful as the skin thickens. People who have diabetes are at risk of these areas breaking down producing sores or ulcerations that can become infected. People with diabetes should not try home remedies and should see a doctor for treatment.
Treatment of Calluses
There are numerous over-the-counter treatments for corns and calluses. Some of these remedies have an acid in them that burn the callous off. Care should be taken when using these medications. If used incorrectly they can cause a chemical burn to the skin. Additionally, these remedies are only temporary because the source of the pressure has not been alleviated. Professional treatment consists of using a special shoe insert called a functional orthotic that corrects foot function. In certain instances, surgery may be recommended. Surgery is directed at correcting the alignment of the offending bone. Cutting out the callous will only make the condition worse if the underlying boney problem is not corrected. Metatarsal surgery is discussed in another section.
Corns are areas of thick skin that most commonly occur on the top of the toes. Generally, there is an associated hammertoe deformity, which causes the toes to rub on the top of the shoes. Professional treatment is directed at correcting the hammertoe deformity. Small corns can also occur on the side of the little toe next to the toenail. A small bone spur causes this problem. Professional treatment consists of removing the bone spur. Bone spurs also cause corns between the toes.
Soft corns are areas of white moist skin between the toes. They most commonly occur between the fourth and fifth toes. They can be very painful and if not treated can form small ulcerations or sinus tracts that can become infected. Acute athlete’s foot can mimic the soft corn. The soft corn is due to an irregularity in the shape of the bone in the fourth or fifth toes.
Treatment of Corns
Home treatment should be directed at reducing the pressure between the toes with cotton or a foam cushion and using an antibiotic ointment to reduce the risk of infection. Over-the-counter corn removers should never be used in this area because of the risk of increased damage to the skin resulting in infection. Professional treatment consists of removing the irregular-shaped bone that causes the development of the corn. Some patients prefer that the doctor simply trim down and pad the calloused areas. This is a common form of treatment in patients with diabetes. See correcting soft corns, removing bone spurs, and hammertoe surgery.