Corns and calluses

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at May 26, 2016
StartDiseasesCorns and calluses

Corns and calluses are irritating and occasionally painful blemishes on the skin. They generally show up on feet and calluses can easily appear on any area of the body. Most may be treated with home remedies and over-the-counter foot care products.


Definitions & Facts

When it comes to identifying a corn, one will discover that they are small and round circles of dense skin that form on various parts of the body. Usually located on the tops and borders of one's toes and on the sole of the foot, corns can manifest more frequently on bony feet that lack cushion. Corns are not as big as calluses and have a tough middle enclosed by irritated skin. Corns have a tendency to grow on areas of a person's feet that do not bear weight, such as the tops and sides of one's toes as well as between the toes. They can additionally be located in weight-bearing areas. Corns may be painful when pressed. 

Calluses are coarse and very hard patches of skin. They’re generally on the heel as well as the ball of the foot; however, they may also be on the hands, knuckles, palms, and knees. Calluses normally are larger than corns. They do not have well-defined sides and may lack sensitivity in comparison with the other parts of the foot. 

Symptoms & Complaints

Symptoms of corns and calluses include:

  • Pain and hard skin on the hands or feet
  • Hardened or raised bumps
  • Thick and rougher skin on certain parts of body
  • Pain and tenderness underneath the skin
  • Dry, wax-like, or flaking skin

Corns along with calluses are normally painless; however, they can become painful after a prolonged period of time. Because feet spend the majority of their time in a closed off, moist environment, corns can be susceptible to infection. Staph infections can occur if bacteria get into corns through breaks or cracks in the skin and cause the inflamed corn to discharge pus


Corns and calluses can be attributable to friction and pressure, and they’re normally a defensive reaction to reduce damage or blistering of the skin. The causes of corns and calluses include:

  • Footwear: A common cause of corns and calluses is ill-fitting footwear. Footwear that doesn't fit properly or is too tight has a tendency to rub against the skin, resulting in friction. High-heeled shoes are the most harmful offenders. They add pressure on the toes thereby making women four times as likely as men to have foot issues. Additionally, wearing socks that sag may create friction that leads to corns and calluses.
  • Exercise: Excessive amounts of walking or jogging even in well-fitting shoes or standing upright for extended periods of time may also cause corns and calluses. 
  • Hard physical labor and repetitive motions: Calluses and corns can easily emerge from repetitive manual labor. Calluses on the hands and fingers may be a result of the repetitive pressure of playing instruments, working with hand tools, or even just writing. 
  • Lack of shoes: Not wearing shoes outside for extended periods of time also applies pressure which could result in getting corns and calluses. 
  • Deformities: Additional risk factors for getting a corn or callus include foot deformities such as bunions or hammer toes.

Some individuals are more likely to get corns and calluses compared to others. Those who walk with over-pronation, which means that their ankles shift inward too much, or over supination, which means that their ankles shift outward too much, tend to be more likely to get corns and calluses.

Diabetic issues or inadequate blood circulation can also contribute to developing corns and calluses because they can reduce feeling in the extremities which makes a patient less likely to notice foot injury or discomfort until after a problem has developed. Occasionally a callus which has simply no clear source of pressure can develop and one should get it looked over by a health care professional because it could possibly be a wart or a splinter stuck under the skin. 

Diagnosis & Tests

In most cases, there is no need for a special test to be done. The corns or calluses will be apparent by a visual inspection or physical examination conducted by a health professional.

Treatment & Therapy

For most people, just simply getting rid of the source of the friction or pressure can make corns and calluses fade away. Finding comfortable shoes and wearing socks that are form-fitting and not saggy can ensure that the corns or calluses are allowed to heal and not recur.

There are many at-home remedies and over-the-counter products that provide care for corns and calluses. These include insoles, pads placed over the corns, special socks, and silicone wedges that can be placed between the toes to reduce friction. Other remedies include using moisturizers to alleviate dry calluses and exfoliating with pumice stones to get rid of layers of dead skin.

A general physician or podiatrist may shave off the corn or callus. Salicylic acid may be used in some cases to help get rid of the top layer of skin. This solution is an ingredient in many over-the-counter products such as liquid corn removers; physicians warn that it may cause burns. Salicylic acid is not recommended for people with diabetes or poor circulation. If the corn has become infected, antibiotics would be required.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

People can avoid corns and calluses by wearing proper footwear and taking care of dried or coarse feet. One should avoid saggy socks and socks with holes. Ensuring that the feet are comfortable and supported can help prevent the occurrence of these aggravating as well as painful irritations. In the event that corns or calluses are untreatable at home, a person will need to make an appointment with their doctor.

Those with circulation problems such as diabetics may need to take extra precautions to ensure that their corns and calluses do not become infected. These could include washing one's feet every day, moisturizing the feet, and consulting a medical professional at the first sign of a sore, blister, corn or callus.