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Corns and calluses

Definition

Corns and calluses are thick layers of skin. They are caused by repeated pressure or friction at the spot where the corn or callus develops.

Alternative Names

Calluses and corns

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Corns and calluses are caused by pressure or friction on skin. A corn is thickened skin on the top or side of a toe. Most of the time it is caused by bad fitting shoes. A callus is thickened skin on your hands or the soles of your feet.

The thickening of the skin is a protective reaction. For example, farmers and rowers get calluses on their hands that prevent blisters from forming. People with bunions often develop a callus over the bunion because it rubs against the shoe.

Corns and calluses are not serious problems.

Symptoms

  • Skin is thick and hardened.
  • Skin may be flaky and dry.
  • Hardened, thick skin areas are found on hands, feet, or other areas that may be rubbed or pressed.
  • The affected areas can be painful and may bleed.

Signs and tests

Your health care provider will make the diagnosis after looking at your skin. In most cases, tests are not needed.

Treatment

Preventing friction is often the only treatment needed.

To treat corns:

  • If poor fitting shoes are causing the corn, changing to shoes that fit better will get rid of the problem most of the time.
  • Protect the corn with a doughnut-shaped corn pad while it is healing. You can buy these at most drug stores.

To treat calluses:

  • Calluses often occur due to excess pressure placed on the skin because of another problem such as bunions or hammertoes. Proper treatment of any underlying condition should prevent the calluses from returning.
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands during activities that cause friction (such as gardening and weight lifting) can help prevent calluses.

If an infection or ulcer occurs in an area of a callus or corn, the tissue may need to be removed by a health care provider. You may need to take antibiotics.

Expectations (prognosis)

Corns and calluses are rarely serious. They should improve with proper treatment and not cause long-term problems.

Complications

Complications of corns and calluses are rare. People with diabetes are prone to ulcers and infections and should regularly examine their feet to identify any problems right away. Such foot injuries need medical attention.

Calling your health care provider

Check your feet carefully if you have diabetes or numbness in the feet or toes.

Otherwise, the problem should resolve with changing to better-fitting shoes or wearing gloves.

Call your health care provider if:

  • You have diabetes and notice problems with your feet.
  • You think your corn or callus is not getting better with treatment.
  • You have continued symptoms of pain, redness, warmth, or drainage from the area.

References

Scardina RJ, Lee SM. Corns. In: Frontera, WR, Silver JK, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 79.

American Diabetes Association. Standard of Medical Care in Diabetes – 2013. Diabetes Care. 2013;36:S11-S66.


Review Date: 4/16/2013
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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