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Corns and calluses

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Overview of corns and calluses

Corns and calluses are some of the common skin conditions that are characterized by thickening of the skin in the affected areas. The corns may either be soft or hard with an elevated layer of skin in the center giving it a conical appearance, and may be associated with pain and minor swelling. A callus refers to the uniform thickening of the skin with a broad base and is painless. Corns are commonly noticed on the soles of the feet, while calluses can be noticed on the palms, toes, heels and soles.1, 2

Signs and Symptoms of corns and calluses

Both corns and calluses are characterized by thickening of the skin in the areas exposed to repeated pressure such as the palms, toes, heels and the soles. Corns may be painful making it difficult even a normal walk. The skin may be dry and flaky in the area of the corns and calluses. 2

Causes of corns and calluses

Corns and calluses are usually caused due to repeated pressure and friction to the skin surfaces. Such a repeated pressure or friction results in an activation of the protective mechanism of the skin cells, which begin to deposit more layers of skin in that particular area. Using a racquet (for sports such as badminton or tennis), riding a bike, occupations such as carpentry are some of the examples that result in repeated pressure or friction on the palms (calluses), on the other hand, tight fitting shoes and walking barefoot are the causative factors in case of feet (corns). Soft corns may result from excessive perspiration especially in the areas between the toes, which is absorbed into the skin tissues.

Risk Factors for corns and calluses

Day-to-day activities that involve application of repeated pressure on the skin are considered as the prominent risk factors for the development of calluses. Individuals who wear shoes (especially ill-fitting ones) for prolonged periods are more prone to develop corns and calluses. In some individuals there may be a defect in the shape of the foot, which results in application of excessive pressure on certain particular areas of the foot rather uniform distribution of weight.1

Diagnosis of corns and calluses

The diagnosis of corns and calluses is based on the physical appearance of the affected areas. No other tests are usually advised.

Treatment of corns and calluses

Corns and calluses are generally treated with conservative treatment measures such as providing relief from the symptoms, identification of the cause and following appropriate steps to overcome them. Minor surgical procedure wherein the affected skin and the underlying tissues are cleared may be required at times for the relief of painful corns.1,2

Simple steps to relieve pressure when performing day-to-day activities can cure the corns and calluses.

These include the following:

  • Wearing well-fitting shoes that are also comfortable for the soles
  • Using proper gloves when application of pressure on hands is inevitable
  • Use of corn plasters on the painful corns
  • Use of some over-the-counter insoles marketed for the relief of heel pain or foot pain

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If the skin is thick, its thickness can be reduced by

  • Using a file or pumice stone to rub on the hard surfaces of the soles after soaking the skin surfaces in warm water for about 10–15 min and by
  • Using corn trimmers that are commonly available.

The cracks in the heels may be relieved by the application of a thick lubricating ointment such as petroleum jelly or other over-the-counter products available for cracked heels. Wearing of comfortable footwear is also helpful.

In some rare instances, the bones within the heel may be protruding and resulting in constant pain and the formation of corn. Consultation with a dermatologist with proper surgical therapy can relieve the symptoms.3,4

Alternative therapy for corns and calluses

No specific alternative therapies other than preventive measures enumerated above are advised for corns and calluses.

Prevention of corns and calluses

Taking appropriate care of the feet and hands as specified above are helpful in preventing the recurrence of corns and calluses.

Living with corns and calluses

Corns and calluses have not been reported to result in any serious complications. When treated appropriately, they heal well and provide relief from the symptoms. Proper care of the feet and hands can prevent further recurrence.

References:

1. Freeman DB. Corns and calluses resulting from mechanical hyperkeratosis. Am Fam Physician. 2002; 65(11): 2277–2280.

2. Singh D, Bentley G, Trevino SG. Callosities, corns, and calluses. BMJ. 1996; 312: 1403–1406.

3. Bedinghaus JM, Niedfeldt MW. Over-the-counter foot remedies. Am Fam Physician. 2001; 64(5): 791–796, 803–804.

4. Meadows M. Taking care of your feet. FDA Consum. 2006; 40(2): 16–24.