Understanding callouses and corns
Our feet play an important role in getting us around. There are times when the pressure placed on the foot becomes out of balance, resulting in extra friction formation on some particular areas of the foot. When this happens, the body may respond to the pressure by producing thickenings in the surface layer of the skin. These hard patches of skin are called callouses and are actually part of the body’s defense system to protect the underlying tissues. However, callouses can become painful if the root cause of the pressure is not relieved.
And in the case when the pressure becomes so concentrated in a small area, a “hard” corn may develop. You can also get “soft” corns in between your toes where the skin is moist from sweat or inadequate drying.
They appear white and rubbery and are also caused by excessive friction. There is also the possibility of developing complex neural and vascular types of corn known as the neurovascular corns.
Sometimes the pressure of the corn or callouses may produce inflammation and can result in acute pain, swelling and redness.
Where are the callouses and corns usually located?
Callouses and corns are most often found on the balls of the feet or the tops of the toes. They can also be found on heels, in between your toes and even along the sides of the toenails.
What causes callouses and corns?
Callouses and corns are generally symptoms of underlying problems and in some cases, early warning signals of more complex foot disorders. The main cause of the condition can be simplified to excessive pressure and irritation, often caused by ill-fitting or appropriate footwear as well as toe deformities such as bunions, hammer toes, bony prominences and biomechanical or gait abnormalities.
Who gets callouses and corns?
In fact, callouses and corns affect more people than any other kind of foot problem. Some people have a natural tendency to develop callouses because of their skin type. For instance, elderly people have less fatty tissue and elasticity in their feet.
Due to the lack of padding, callouses may form on the bottom of the foot. Also, people who work in occupations that require them to spend a lot of time on their feet are prone to developing callouses.
How to treat callouses and corns?
If the lesion is a physiological (normal) callouses, then treatment is not necessary as it is there to protect the area. The most important thing to remember about treating callouses and corns is never do it yourself without seeing a podiatrist first. This is so as callouses are generally symptoms of other problems, it is crucial to have a podiatrist examine your feet to work out what could be causing the pressure. The self-cutting of callouses and corns is also a dangerous act as it is easy for the person to cut themselves and infection may occur.
What the person can do for themselves is to make sure their footwear fits properly and an emollient can be used on the skin. Padding the area can also help relieve the pressure.
What about those over the counter remedies such as corn pad or plaster?
Corn pad or plasters generally just treat the symptoms and not the cause. They usually contain acids that can also “eat away” the lesion and easily damage the healthy skin surrounding the corn. This could lead to an ulcer developing and in diabetics and people with poor circulation, the infection may occur.
How can a podiatrist help with callouses and corns?
A podiatrist can be helpful in cases where the corns and callouses are reoccurring. Your podiatrist will not only recommend ways to relieve pain and get rid of the of the corn or callous but can also help with isolating the cause and prevent the problem from coming back.
To treat painful callouses and corns, a podiatrist can:
cut down and remove the lesions as required.
redistribute the pressure on the foot with soft padding and strapping or deflective devices that fit easily into your shoes and reduce skin rubbing or irritation.
discuss the type of footwear that suits your conditions.
recommend innersoles or orthotics to reduce pressure under the foot.
Can I prevent corns and callouses?
Yes, the best way to prevent the development of callouses and corns is to pay attention to your feet when you feel there is extra pressure on specific areas. Properly fitting shoes are essential, especially if you spend long periods of time on your feet and it is important that you never wear others’ shoes. A moisturizer can be used daily to keep your skin supple.
As always, if you feel like you are developing corns or callouses, best to seek professional advice and treatment from a podiatrist.