How to Treat Corns and Calluses

You may have heard people refer to corns and calluses, but unless a doctor told you that you, too, have them, you might not know exactly what they are or how they should be treated.

Calluses can form on your skin anywhere there is repeated pressure. Guitar players, for instance, might form calluses on their fingertips as they continue to play. When calluses grow on your feet, though, they can be painful. They most often form on the balls of your feet as a result of wearing high heels or tight shoes that force pressure onto the toes. They are essentially pads of dead skin that can be sloughed off by using a file designed for that purpose.

Dealing With Calluses

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that you:

  • Soak your feet in warm water to soften a callus.
  • Use a pumice stone (available over the counter at most pharmacies) to file down the callus.
  • Wear foam inserts in your shoes to ease pressure.

Understanding Corns

A corn is a buildup of skin tissue on the toe, usually caused by tight shoes or a neighboring hammertoe (bent toe) that is rubbing against the skin.

Over-the-counter soaks and exfoliants are unlikely to get rid of corns because the skin has become so thick, experts say.

"At-home soaks or scrubs just exfoliate," meaning they remove overlying skin, but they don't remove corns, says Tracey Vlahovic, DPM, associate professor of podiatric medicine and orthopedics at Temple University's School of Podiatric Medicine. The best solution involves correcting the hammertoe with physical therapy or surgery, or by wearing wider, more comfortable shoes, says Dr. Vlahovic.

The AAP also advises using over-the-counter, doughnut-shaped pads designed to protect corns from additional friction and to ease pain.

Treating Corns and Calluses: When It's Time to See an Expert

If corns and calluses become painful, it's time to see a podiatrist, says Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, of the University of Miami Cosmetic Center.

The best way to manage them is "avoiding tight shoes," says Dr. Woolery-Lloyd. But "they can be pared down with a scalpel," she notes, adding that "topical treatments with salicylic acid can also shrink them." Some people, especially diabetics, should talk to a doctor before attempting to remove a callus or corn.

Trying to cut or scrape off calluses and corns at home can lead to infection, putting people with diabetes at risk of further complications.

Preventing Corns and Calluses

The best way to prevent corns and calluses is to buy shoes that fit well. When shopping for footwear, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons advises that you:

  • Avoid tight-fitting or narrow-toed shoes.
  • Avoid heels or shoes that force pressure on your toes.
  • Choose a shoe that provides good support and fits well in the store.
  • Get your feet measured while in the store, as they may have changed in size.
  • Shop for shoes later in the day, when your feet are at their largest.
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