It’s important to understand the difference between corns and calluses.
Corns and calluses are layers of skin which have become thick and hardened as a reaction to friction, pressure, and other forms of wear. Most commonly found on the feet and hands, both conditions normally serve to protect your skin against injury.
Despite their shared traits, corns and calluses are different:
- Calluses are generally painless and occur most commonly on the base of the foot, especially on areas which see both pressure and friction, i.e. the heels and balls of the foot. They are the larger of the two.
- Corns are smaller patches of hardened skin with a distinct hard center. Usually surrounded by inflammation, corns can be uncomfortable under normal circumstances and hurt when pressure is applied. Unlike calluses, corns usually form on parts of your foot or ankle which are not load bearing, though they can technically form anywhere.
Causes of Corns and Calluses
The simplest root cause of all calluses and corns is a combination of regular pressure and friction. This means that simply walking around can lead to either forming, if the circumstances are right. Specific sources of the added force which tends to cause serious calluses and corns include:
- Shoes. Shoes which are too tight or too loose can lead to significant friction on your feet. Shoes which are too tight will rub against the edges of your toes and other surfaces, while loose shoes will allow your feet to slide and generate friction along a number of surfaces.
- Socks. Going without socks significantly increases the amount of friction the skin on your feet experience, which in turn can lead to callus formation.
- Bunions. If you already have a bunion, a bony bump at the base of your big toe, watch it closely as it will be prone to rubbing against your shoe.
- Hammertoe. The hammertoe deformity, in which your toe curls significantly, can lead to rubbing on the tip of the toe or on the joint against the roof of your shoe.
- Bone spurs. Any bone spurs you may have on your feet or ankles can lead to friction against your shoes, leading in turn to the formation of calluses or corns.
- Other abnormalities. Essentially any bone or skin abnormality on your feet should receive special attention, as they can lead to the formation of calluses and corns if not cared for properly.
Usually, you’ll only notice the formation of a callus or a corn when it’s too late to prevent it. Symptoms and early warning signs include:
- Thickened skin. You may notice the skin thickening in areas likely to form a callus even before the skin starts to harden.
- Rough skin. Skin can be rough as a result of a callus, or can be rough due to rubbing and dryness—which will eventually lead to a callus.
- Hard raised bump. A hard raised bump on your foot is usually indicative of a corn, or soon to be a corn.
- Tenderness. If you notice your skin becoming tender in a certain area after walking, that area is probably going to start to callus with continued stress.
- Flaky or dry skin. The skin at the outside surface of a callus often becomes dry and flaky as moisture struggles to penetrate the thick layers of skin in the way.
- Waxy skin. When a callus is not dry, it is often waxy, feeling almost unlike skin to the touch.
- Consistent discomfort. Any consistent discomfort in your shoes when sitting or walking is a pressure area likely to lead to corns or calluses over time.
Prevention and Treatment
If you want to avoid developing calluses or corns, proper foot care is crucial. For most calluses, the same tools used for prevention will eventually lead to the elimination of calluses; only the most serious or recurring cases require professional intervention.
- Well-fitting shoes. Shoes that fit right are critical. Ask a professional to help you figure out your exact shoe size, and make sure your shoes feel snug but not tight when laced and tied. You should have a little room to wiggle your toes.
- Cushions and covers. Socks, special padding for abnormalities, and other forms of cushioning and covering will drastically reduce the formation of calluses on your feet.
- Inserts. For some cases, special inserts for your shoes will be necessary to avoid friction.
- Soaking. Soaking your feet in a hot bath, whether as part of your normal bathing or via foot bath, will keep skin pliable and soft.
- Abrasion. Abrasive hygiene tools such as a pumice stone or nail file can help keep calluses under control.
- Moisturizing. Keeping your skin moisturized with lotion and personal hydration will also prevent the formation of calluses.
- Trimming. With severe calluses, a medical professional can trim using a scalpel or other cutting tool. This is best left to professionals, as there can be a risk of infection if done improperly.
- Surgery. In recurrent cases of severe callus formation due to bone or skin abnormalities, surgery may be the only viable treatment.
Most calluses aren’t a problem unless they bother you, while corns can be painful but will often resolve on their own. If you have lengthy or severe callus or corn formation, and can’t seem to avoid friction due to abnormalities or health issues, a foot and ankle specialist can help.