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Corns and Calluses

What Are Calluses and Corns?

A callus (tyloma) is an area of skin that thickens after exposure to repetitive frictional forces in order to protect the skin. A corn is a smaller type of callus that commonly develops on top of, and between, toes. Corns are separated into soft and hard corns. Both calluses and corns may or may not be painful. When it becomes painful, treatment is required. However, people who suffer from diabetes, poor blood circulation, or loss of sensation (neuropathy) should seek professional treatment even if there is no associated pain.

What Is the Difference Between a Corn and a Callus?

When a callus develops a mass of dead cells in its center (keratinocytes), it becomes a corn (heloma). Corns generally occur on top of, and between, toes. A hard corn is typically associated with toe deformities such as hammertoes. These deformities cause pressure points at toe joints, which rub against closed-toe shoes. The most common area is on the pinky toe. Soft corns commonly occur in between toes from excessive rubbing of toe bones to each other. These corns remain soft due to the moisture from sweat. Calluses occur on the feet, hands, and any other part of the skin where friction is present. It is more common to develop calluses at the bottom of the feet (the sole).

What Causes and Risk Factors of Corns and Calluses?

  • External factors (outside the body) that can cause calluses and corns from friction and mechanical stress
    • Ill-fitting shoes or socks
    • Bunching of socks or socks with seams by the toes
    • Manual labor
    • Not wearing shoes
    • Activities that increase frictional stress applied to the skin of the hands and feet, such as athletic events
    • Activities involving repetitive motion on the same parts of body, such as callus forming on hand/finger from playing the guitar
  • Internal factors (within the body) that may lead to the formation of corns and calluses
    • Bony prominences or structural deformities, such as hammertoes and bunions
    • Corns and callus formation at the bottom of foot, big toe, and ball of foot are most likely due to abnormal foot mechanics.
    • Faulty foot function such as overpronation or oversupination
    • Damaged sweat glands, scars, and warts (plantar verruca)
    • Frequent wear of open-heel shoes such as flip flops and sandals can cause callus to form around the heel in a horseshoe pattern
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/24/2016
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Common Foot Pain Problems

Corns and Calluses

Friction and pressure cause corns and calluses. Corns are calluses impacted into the skin and are often small, round, and painful to pressure. Calluses typically appear at the ball of the foot and heel. Ill-fitting shoes or foot deformities such as hammertoes and bunions can cause corns and calluses. Pads can help relieve a painful corn or callus as well as periodic trimming by a podiatrist. In some cases, it's necessary for the patient to get custom shoe inserts (functional orthotics) or surgery to correct the underlying deformity causing the corn or callus.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Corns »

Corns, also referred to as clavi, are painful, hyperkeratotic papules of the skin that develop in response to excess pressure on the bony prominences of the feet and toes.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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