Corns and calluses are a reaction of the skin against constant friction and scratching, when hard, thick areas appear as a form of protection. Corns and calluses can have a nasty look and usually develop on the most exposed areas, such as fingers, toes, hands and feet. Corns and calluses are not usually considered a disease and should only be treated if they cause problems. If the cause of pressure or friction on the skin is removed, the thick areas of skin go away naturally.
Corns and calluses can also cause complications, especially if the flow of blood to their area is poor. People with diabetes, which limits blood supply to the feet, are especially at risk. In such cases, the thick skin requires specific treatment and you should ask for medical advice.
While usually grouped together, corns and calluses are different conditions. Corns are small round areas of thick skin that can appear anywhere but are usually found in locations exposed to pressure, like the toes or foot soles. They are usually caused by bad habits and improper shoes. It is important to wear shoes with an appropriate size, otherwise the foot can move inside them and the skin rubs against the edges. Some fashion shoes also put too much stress on a single zone of skin, like the toes that are pressed strongly by high heel models.
Corns are normally found on feet, in areas where the bones are not covered by muscles and are located right under the skin. Friction is not the only cause, there can be others as well. A common one is the so-called bunion, when the join of the big toe is excessively oriented outwards, in a different direction from the toe itself. Another possibility is to have a deformed toe at the second joint, known as a hammer toe.
Calluses are rough patches of very thick skin, which can become yellow and contrast with the rest of the skin. The most common areas are the feet, under the ball of the feet. They also emerge on the knuckles and palms but can be found anywhere on the body.
Calluses cover a larger size and their edge is not very obvious. They grow as a defence mechanism for the skin and are much rougher and less sensitive than normal. The skin develops calluses as a protection when rubbing against a hard object that can be the bones, shoes, the ground or anything else. Since the ball of the foot supports most of the body weight, it is the most common area where calluses are found. Athletes have a much higher risk of developing calluses, as well as any person who walks or runs a lot, especially barefoot or with improper shoes.
Calluses can also be caused by dry skin and other more general problems. Older people have a lesser amount of fat cells in their skin, which decreased their protection. Using tools or playing sports with rackets and other objects can also cause them in the hands.
In most cases, corns and calluses on the foot are due to shoes that are badly designed or don't fit well, with high heel models being the usual suspects. An unusual style of walking can also put a lot of stress on the feet. Because of high heels and other fashion designs, women have a risk to have foot problems about four times higher than men. Another bad practice is to wear shoes without socks, which increases friction. Feet with an irregular shape also support more pressure than normal.
When an area of skin is subjected to pressure, either corns or calluses can appear. However, calluses are easily confused with other conditions. A callus that appears without friction can actually be something else, like a wart or a foreign object under the skin, such as a splinter. Feet are very vulnerable to bacteria because they are usually covered and moist. Corns can become infected when pathogens enter the skin, and fill with pus or other fluids.
Corns and calluses can easily be prevented simply by wearing the proper shoes and avoiding unnecessary stress on the feet.
There are several easy feet care advices that will prevent the development of both types of hard skin. It is important to make sure the feet are properly dried after washing. Use only a dedicated foot cream to moisturize them, not general body lotions. Hardened skin in the area can be scraped off using a foot file or pumice stone, but do it gently. Pumice stones have to be carefully dried, otherwise bacteria will start growing on them.
Of course, the best thing to do in order to protect your feet is to wear only shoes that fit and are comfortable. Few people know that feet swell in the afternoon, due to the daily stress on them. A nice trick is to only buy shoes during this time of day, since they will fit perfectly at all times. Don't choose shoes that are exactly the same size as your feet, leave a small space between the toes and the top of the shoes. Heels put pressure on the front part of the feet, so they are unhealthy.
Foot pain or discomfort is never normal and you should not ignore it. Ask for the advice of your family doctor or go see a specialist - podiatrist. Doctors can determine the root cause of the pain, it might be something serious.
Podiatrists, also known as chiropodists, are specialist doctors who are the best qualified to advise you if a corn is causing trouble. Generally, if the source of stress on the feet is eliminated, the corns will disappear after a while. If the cause remains, the opposite happens and the skin keeps getting thicker, as a defense mechanism of our body.
You can find a number of treatment options for corns in pharmacies, available without a prescription. Corn plasters and other similar products are effective but the root cause remains and the patches can affect the healthy skin around the corns. People with sensitive skin, diabetes or bad circulation should not use the plasters at all.
Calluses are better left alone, you should only start to treat them after asking for the advice of a general practitioner or podiatrist. These doctors can remove the thick areas of corns and calluses by cutting the excess skin with a surgical blade. This is a simple and common procedure that causes no pain and doesn't have side effects. Podiatrists can also recommend special insoles to help relieve the pressure or give you valuable advice for effective care at home.