Corns and calluses are an extremely common foot complaint amongst adults of all ages. At our foot clinic in Kelowna, patients often ask about the difference between these two conditions and if it is necessary to see a foot doctor. While they are very similar, there are some key differences.
A Foot Doctors Guide to the Difference Between Corns and Calluses
What Are They?
Both corns and calluses are thick, hardened layers of skin that form in order to protect the foot from friction and pressure. The hardened skin is actually dead skin cells and can look unsightly and may cause discomfort or even pain. Calluses do not usually cause any pain, and they tend to develop on the sole of the foot. Mainly on bony, weight-bearing areas like the heel or ball of the foot. They can appear like dry, rough, waxy, or flaky patches of skin.
Corns are usually a lot smaller than calluses, and although they can form on weight-bearing areas, they tend to develop on non-weight-bearing zones of the foot, such as the tops, sides, or spaces in between the toes. Corns usually have a hard center that is encircled by inflamed or swollen skin. When pressed, they may feel tender or even painful. There are a few different types of corns.
Hard corns are defined by a small, dense area surrounded by thickened skin, usually forming on the tops of the toes.
Soft corns are softer and have a rubbery texture that appears white or grey in colour. They usually develop between the toes.
Seed corns are small corns that usually develop on the bottom of the feet, most usually on the ball of the foot.
What Causes Them?
There are several factors that can lead to the development of calluses and corns. They can be heredity, so those with family members who suffer from them are much more likely to have them develop. They can be caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes. Shoes that are too tight can compress and apply pressure to certain areas of the foot. Whereas shoes that are too big can rub on the skin, causing friction and irritation. Some shoe materials can also cause your feet to overheat, sweat, and swell.
Socks are a similar cause. Ill-fitted or poorly manufactured socks can cause irritation, especially when doing physical activity for long periods of time. Not wearing socks puts the skin in direct contact with the shoe and materials. Stitching and fitting can cause friction. Muscle or biomechanical imbalances can cause uneven weight distribution in the foot, putting too much pressure on one specific point. Spending a lot of time on the feet and age are other causes. With age, the skin loses elasticity and fatty tissue.
Those at Increased Risk
Those who suffer from other foot problems or deformities may have an increased risk of developing calluses or corns. Bunions can change the natural alignment of the feet and cause increased pressure to the toes and areas surrounding them, as can other deformities such as hammertoe, bone spurs, and arthritis. Smokers are also at increased risk of developing the problem because nicotine can decrease blood supply to tissue.
Do I Need To See a Doctor?
It is not usually necessary to see your doctor. However, those with diabetes, heart conditions, or other underlying ailments that can increase the risk of infection should see their doctor as soon as they notice a callus or corn developing. If the condition becomes painful or looks to be infected, then visit your doctor straight away. An infected corn or callus may look red and swollen, there can be ooze or pus, and the area may feel painful.
If home treatments are not working, or the condition keeps coming back, you should consider seeing a doctor.
How Can a Podiatrist Help in Kelowna?
A podiatrist will help with the long-term treatment and management of calluses or corns. At our clinic in Kelowna, we will conduct a thorough examination of the foot, which may include performing X-Rays, bone scans, CT, MRI, and other imaging studies. These tests will help them determine the cause of the problem so that they help stop future development. They may recommend lifestyle changes, footwear options, inserts, padding, or custom orthotics and prescribe various exercises to help with any muscular imbalances.
A podiatrist can treat larger calluses or corns by using a surgical blade to carefully shave away the thick, dead skin cells. Because the skin is already dead, this is a painless procedure, but it is vital that it is performed by a trained professional. It may be a one-time treatment or an ongoing procedure, depending on the severity of the condition and its likelihood of returning.
How to Treat at Home
If you have no underlying health conditions, mild cases of calluses or corns can be treated at home in a number of ways. If the cause of the friction or pressure that caused the problem has gone, they will usually disappear gradually on their own. Using a pumice stone or other similar tools after showering or bathing will remove the dead skin. Once finished with the stone, applying a good moisturizer to the area will keep it soft.
Donut-shaped adhesive pads can help protect the area from irritation and pressure, which can cause pain. There are over-the-counter treatments available, such as corn plasters. However, many health professionals advise against using these as they can contain a number of harsh, chemical ingredients and can cause chemical burns to the healthy skin surrounding the treatment area, which can cause infections and ulcers.
Most cases can be prevented by giving the feet a little bit of regular attention and care. There are many things you can do yourself to stop the formation of this skin ailment.
One of the most important factors is to ensure you are always wearing correctly fitting shoes. Have your feet professionally measured, and consider trying on shoes later in the day when you’re feet are normally at their most swollen. If you can’t wiggle your toes inside the shoe, the shoes are too tight. Always wear properly fitting and well-made socks with footwear.
Avoid wearing pointy or high-heeled shoes for prolonged periods of time. Wear comfortable shoes for commuting and kick off your shoes when seated at your desk.
Ask your foot doctor about padded or customized insoles. These should even out the weight distribution in the foot. Inserting lambs wool between the toes can help reduce friction in these areas.
If you tend to have sweaty feet, consider using a daily foot powder to keep them dry. Lastly, inspect your feet daily, keep them clean, washing with soapy water, and apply a moisturizing foot cream once dry. Keep your toenails trimmed, and avoid walking barefoot.
Can They Return?
Both calluses and corns can return if the cause of their development has not been fixed, whether it be ill-fitting shoes, prolonged standing, foot deformities, or muscular imbalances. For this reason, it is important to work with a podiatrist who can determine the root of the problem and help eliminate the issues that cause the condition.
Although they can be unsightly, calluses do not usually lead to serious foot problems in healthy people. If you are concerned about corns or calluses, or any other foot complaints, contact Island Foot Clinics. We have clinics throughout British Columbia, including Kelowna, Victoria, Nanaimo, Prince George, Campbell River, Terrace, and Williams Lake.