Corns and Calluses

Calluses are thick hardened layers of skin that often develop on the feet and hands. Although they rarely pose a serious medical threat, they can be challenging to treat. If you need practical advice on how to manage calluses.

What are calluses?

Calluses are areas of skin that become rough and hardened in response to prolonged and repeated friction or pressure. They are usually hard, white or yellowish in color, and usually painless. Common areas where calluses are found include the heel or over the ball of the foot, on the outside of the fifth toe, or between the fourth and fifth toe.

How do calluses form?

Calluses form as a result of the body's natural defense mechanism to protect the body from further injury. They are not a disease caused by bacteria, fungus, or virus; they are caused by the body forming a wall of tough skin in response to constant exposure to low levels of damage caused by friction and pressure. The foot is under constant pressure from being under the weight of the body. Ill-fitting or new shoes that are unbroken are common causes of callus formation. Instruments like guitars and violins can also be a constant source of friction for the hands. Some sports like gymnastics are another way in which the hands can become callused.

How should I get rid of them?

The best treatment for a callus is remarkably simple: Remove the source of friction and wait until the callus goes away. Calluses will not form without a source of constant friction and pressure. Unfortunately simple doesn't always mean easy. If your shoes are too tight, it isn't always practical to just throw them away and buy new shoes. Similarly, if you are a competitive in a sport that causes frequent friction, quitting usually isn't a reasonable option. In the majority of cases, you can simply ignore calluses until they go away on their own. The following are some practical tips on removing the source of friction:

  • New shoes-do they just need breaking in, or are they ill-fitting?
  • High heels-don't wear them everyday
  • Instruments-protect your hands, but to a certain extent they're inevitable

When should you treat calluses?

In the majority of cases, calluses don't require treatment. Calluses only form due to constant pressure and friction. Remove the source of the friction and the callus will disappear shortly. While they may be somewhat unsightly, they are usually hidden by socks or shoes. There are times, however, when you might require some help.

  • Calluses can be a potential source of medical concern in people who have diabetes or in people who have blood flow problems. If you have these conditions, you should definitely consult a physician. Do not self-treat.
  • Sometimes an existing callus may have gotten so large that it becomes a source of further friction. This can become a vicious cycle that causes further callus development.
  • Calluses can sometimes become painful. If it is painful enough that it discourages you from your usual activities you might consider treatment.
  • Minor cases of foot deformities like hammertoe or bunions may not be noticeable to the eye, but can cause unnatural friction and pressure which can cause calluses to form. If you are constantly getting calluses for unknown reasons, it is worth asking a doctor. In these cases, treating the deformity should remove the callus formation.

Is there any way to speed up treatment?

First, it's important to understand that prevention is more important than a quick fix treatment. If the source of pressure or friction (such as ill-fitting shoes) is not removed, a callus will soon come back even if it's removed. Remember that calluses are a defense mechanism; they will form as long as the skin is under pressure. Once you remove the source of the problem, however, there are some ways in which the treatment can be sped up:

  • Salicylic acid based treatments-that help soften up tough skin
  • Cutting or shaving-to be done by professionals to ensure safety
  • Moisturizing the skin may help soften the skin