Like many of my patients, you likely have gotten those hard and thickened areas of dry skin on your feet that can make walking uncomfortable and even painful. These yellowed areas of skin around the outer top half of your foot, or on the padded ball or heel of your foot, are simply referred to as “corns” and “calluses”. They are the most common foot disorders that foot and skin doctors deal with. Despite the nuisance these skin disorders can be, they are not serious conditions and can be easily remedied and prevented. Here’s what I recommend to my patients.
Corns and Calluses – How They Form
Corns and calluses are nothing more than overgrown skin that your body produces as a protection against constant pressure and/or friction from overweight or poorly fitting shoes. If you are overweight, being up on your feet a lot causes pressure on the balls and heels of your feet – the most common places to develop calluses. The skin overgrows in these areas to try and compensate for the extra pressure by creating more padding.
Corns, on the other hand, are also overgrown skin that most often form on the top third of your toes. However, they can be found in the weight-bearing areas of your foot and between your toes as well. They have a more hardened center and are painful when pressed. These outgrowths of skin are almost always caused by too-tight toe boxes on your shoes. Your foot does not have enough room in the shoe and rubs against your shoe with movement.
Other areas of overgrown, thickened skin can also develop around the outer, upper area of your foot, on the sides of your little toes. Doctors refer to these outgrowths as hyperkeratosis – a big medical word that simply means an overgrowth of the keratin layer of your skin. Some people are more prone to getting HKs, such as people who have eczema. HK’s resemble calluses and corns but often develop a very hardened center, like there is a tiny stone in it. Like corns, when these areas rub against your shoe, they can make it painful to walk or exercise and limits both. Like corns and calluses, these skin overgrowths are also caused by pressure and friction.
The symptoms of corns, calluses and HK’s are fairly obvious, mainly pain and discomfort when wearing shoes. Other symptoms can include:
- Dry, hardened, yellowed or grayed discolored, raised areas of skin
- Itching and/or burning in the areas affected
- Flaking skin
- On corns, the uppermost skin can break open and bleed from constant rubbing against a shoe.
Treatment for Corns and Calluses
Your corner drug store carries special felt pads for cushioning corns against your shoes. It also carries callus remover liquids and pumice stones to “sand” down the callus. However, use caution with pumice stones to prevent infection from too aggressive treatment. Also, do not try to remove corns and calluses yourself with cutting implements like razor blades or shavers as this can result in serious infection.
To completely treat and prevent these conditions from returning, you will also need to address the following:
- Your weight – getting to a normal weight will alleviate calluses and HPK conditions quickly. Even a 10% reduction in your weight can make a difference.
- Your shoes – although you may be buying the right size shoe for your foot, you may not be buying the correct width. Get your feet professionally measured at least once at a good shoe store or foot doctors office to know the correct size/width of your foot. Also, going without socks can increase pressure from shoes.
- Vitamin deficiencies: Deficiencies in A, E, and B vitamins, as well as essential fatty acids (Omega 3’s) can aggravate these types of skin conditions. Be sure your multiple contains them. Take daily fish oil caps, 1,000 to 2,000 mg a day.
For immediate, but short-term (skin will re-grow if pressure and friction still occur), relief of these conditions, a trip to a dermatologist, or a podiatrist (foot doctor), can remove these areas of skin safely for you. Treatment at one of these specialist’s offices usually consists of:
- Whirlpool – your feet are soaked in a 10-15 minute hydro jet whirlpool that softens the hardened, overgrowths of skin. There is no pain involved and is actually very relaxing.
- Debridement – this is done with a small surgical blade to gently scrape down the layers of hardened skin. This is not painful (in fact, it often tickles), and does not require an anesthetic. It takes about 10 minutes to do.
These procedures are usually covered on most health insurance plans and doctors usually perform them for about $35-50 if you do not have insurance. If you are diabetic, it is especially beneficial to have these procedures done at a specialist’s office to prevent a dangerous infection.
Although corns, calluses, and HKs can be uncomfortable and/or painful nuisances, they are rarely serious conditions. If you follow the treatment recommendations listed above, you’ll be on your way to getting rid of this frustrating skin condition once and for all.
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.
Corns and Calluses, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002212/
Corns and Calluses, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/corns-and-calluses/DS00033/DSECTION=causes