Introduction 

Corns and calluses are areas of hard, thickened skin that develop when the skin is exposed to excessive pressure or friction. They commonly occur on the feet and can cause pain and discomfort when you walk.

Corns

Corns are small circles of thick skin that usually develop on the tops and sides of toes or on the sole of the foot. However, they can occur anywhere.

Corns are often caused by wearing shoes that fit poorly or certain designs that place excessive pressure on an area of the foot.

Corns often occur on bony feet as there's a lack of natural cushioning. They can also develop as a symptom of another foot problem, such as:

  • bunion – where the joint of the big toe sticks outwards as the big toe begins to point towards the other toes on the same foot
  • hammer toe – where the toe is bent at the middle joint

Calluses

Calluses are hard, rough areas of skin that are often yellowish in colour. They can develop on your foot, most often around the heel area or on the skin under the ball of the foot.

They can also develop on the palms of the hands and knuckles.

Calluses are larger than corns and do not have such a well-defined edge. As callused skin is thick, it is often less sensitive to touch than the surrounding skin.

Calluses develop when the skin rubs against something, such as a bone, a shoe or the ground. They often form over the ball of your foot because this area takes most of your weight when you walk. This is particularly the case when high heels are worn regularly.

Excessive pressure on bony areas of the foot, badly fitting shoes, dry skin and reduced fatty padding are all possible causes of calluses.

Treating corns and calluses

If you have a corn on your foot, you should see a podiatrist, also known as a chiropodist, who can advise you about treatment. In most areas of the UK your GP will be able to refer you on the NHS.

Find foot care specialists in your local area.

Corns on feet will not get better unless the cause of the pressure is removed. If the cause is not removed, the skin could become thicker and more painful over time.

A corn is a symptom of an underlying problem. You should only treat it yourself when you know what has caused it and after you have spoken to a specialist about the best way to manage it.

Over-the-counter treatments for corns, such as corn plasters, are available from pharmacists. However, they do not treat the cause of the corn and may affect the normal, thinner skin surrounding the corn.

Corn plasters may not be suitable for certain people, such as those with diabetes, circulation problems or fragile skin.

As with corns, you should only treat calluses yourself after a podiatrist has identified the cause and advised you about treatment.

The podiatrist may be able to treat corns or badly callused areas using a sharp blade to remove the thickened area of skin. This is painless and should help reduce pain and discomfort. They can also provide advice on self-care and prescribe special insoles.

Read more about treating corns and calluses.

You can also help prevent corns and calluses by looking after your feet and choosing the right shoes to wear.

Read more information about preventing corns and calluses.

Corns and calluses

Watch this video to find out how to treat corns and calluses (areas of thick, dry, hard skin on the feet that can be very painful).

Media last reviewed: 14/05/2013

Next review due: 14/05/2015

Page last reviewed: 04/04/2014

Next review due: 04/04/2016