Corns and calluses develop as a result of excessive stress on skin that lies over bony prominences, e.g. under the ball of the foot or heel, on the ends of toes or over the top of toe joints.

A corn is roughly round in shape. Corns press into the deeper layers of skin and can be painful.

Corns on feet

Example appearance of a corn on the bottom of a foot

  • Hard corns commonly occur on the top of the smaller toes or on the outer side of the little toe. These are the areas where poorly fitted shoes tend to rub most:
  • Soft corns sometimes form in between the toes, most commonly between the fourth and fifth toes. These are softer because the sweat between the toes keeps them moist. Soft corns can sometimes become infected.

Calluses are larger and broader than corns and have a less well-defined edge. They tend to form under the ball of the foot or under the ends of toes. They are usually painless but can become uncomfortable:

Example appearance of calluses on feet

Example appearance of calluses on a foot

Treatment

If you develop a painful corn or callus it is best to obtain expert advice from a chiropodist or podiatrist. You should not cut corns yourself, especially if you are elderly or have diabetes.

Treatments such as corn plasters containing salicylic acid have limited use and can weaken or damage surrounding skin.

Best results are usually achieved by having the corn or callus removed by a qualified practitioner using a scalpel blade. This can normally be done quite painlessly. Paring down the hard skin eases the pressure on the underlying tissues, thus reducing discomfort when walking. Sometimes, repeated or regular trimming sessions are needed. However, once a corn or callus has been pared down, it may be slower to return if you use well-fitting footwear. Going barefoot when not outdoors may also help.

Shoes and footwear

Tight or poorly fitting shoes tend to be cause of most corns and calluses. Sometimes a rough seam or stitching in a shoe may rub enough to cause a corn. Aim to wear shoes that reduce pressure and rubbing on the toes and forefeet, ideally by having a fastening rather than slip-on. Shoes should have plenty of room for the toes and have soft uppers and low heels. In addition, extra width is needed if corns develop on the outer side of the little toe. Extra height is needed if corns develop on the top of abnormal toes such as ‘hammer’ or ‘claw’ toes.

Some people with severe abnormalities of their feet or toes will need special shoes to prevent rubbing. I can advise on firms that make and/or supply such footwear.

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