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Calluses and Corns
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Calluses and Corns

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition

A callus is an abnormal thickening of the top layer of skin, which is composed of the natural protein, keratin. Calluses can form on body surface areas that are repeatedly exposed to friction or pressure. They are usually painless or only mildly painful.

A corn is a small, thickened area of skin that forms on the toes. Corns put pressure on the underlying skin against the bone, and they are usually very painful.

A Corn

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Causes

Calluses and corns form as protective pads of skin in response to repeated friction or pressure. Causes include:

Calluses—Any activity that applies repeated friction or pressure to an area of skin, including:

  • Weight lifting (hands)
  • Using tools (hands)
  • Playing a stringed instrument (hands)
  • Running long distances (feet)
  • Kneeling to lay carpet or tile (knees)
  • Walking on hard surfaces without shoes (feet)

Corns—Any activity or condition that applies repeated friction or pressure to the toes, including:

  • Wearing ill-fitting shoes
  • Bunching of socks around toes
  • Socks with seams that rub against the toes
  • Foot abnormality causing a protrusion that rubs against footwear

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

  • Professions or physical activities that cause repeated friction or pressure on the skin
  • Wearing ill-fitting footwear

Symptoms

Symptoms of calluses include:

  • Rough, thickened area of skin
  • Painless or slight degree of pain or burning sensation
  • Yellow or reddish in color

Symptoms of corns include:

  • Small, usually very painful bump on the side, on the top, or between toes
  • Yellow or reddish in color

Diagnosis

The doctor will examine the skin where a corn or callus has formed. Diagnosis is based on symptoms and visual observation of the corn or callus. They are easily distinguished by:

  • Location—Corns usually only form on or between the toes.
  • Degree of pain—Corns are usually quite painful, while calluses are usually painless or only slightly painful.

In order to distinguish a corn or callus from a wart , a doctor may pare the lesion with a sterile scalpel blade. Paring of a callus reveals layers of yellowish keratin; paring of a corn reveals a central translucent whitish yellow core, as opposed to the thrombosed capillaries and multiple bleeding points seen in a wart.

Treatment

Treatment of calluses and corns usually includes self-care and medication. In severe cases, minor surgery may be necessary. People with diabetes or circulatory problems should always see a medical doctor or podiatrist for treatment. Self-treatment may lead to severe infection in these individuals.

Self-Care

For calluses:

  • Wear gloves, thick socks, or padding to protect skin.
  • Thin the callus by rubbing with a pumice stone while bathing.

For corns:

  • Wear properly fitting shoes.
  • Remove bunching of socks, irritating stitching from socks, or any other local irritant.
  • Try using doughnut-shaped corn pads, which may relieve pressure on corns.

Medication

Applying keratin-dissolving medication (such as salicylic acid) can help dissolve calluses and corns more quickly. Apply medication carefully because it contains acid that may damage nearby healthy skin.

Minor Surgery

In severe cases, corns or calluses may need to be shaved off with a scalpel by a doctor. More extensive surgery may be recommended to correct foot deformities that cause extremely painful or debilitating corns.

Prevention

To prevent calluses:

  • Avoid activities that apply repeated friction or pressure to the skin.
  • Or, wear gloves, thick socks, or padding over the affected area of the skin.

To prevent corns:

  • Wear properly fitted shoes.
  • Wear properly fitted socks with no irritating stitching.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.aafp.org

The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society
http://www.aofas.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=1

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org/

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org/

References:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Available at: http://www.aaos.org/ .

The Merck Manual of Medical Information—Home Edition . Simon and Schuster, Inc; 2000.



Last reviewed November 2007 by Ross Zeltser, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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