What To Do About Foot Corns – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Worried about the corn on your foot? Here’s everything you need to know to treat it and prevent it from happening again. 

What are corns?

Corns, also known as helomas are a build up of hard skin often in areas of the feet where there is pressure, high impact, friction or rubbing. 

Corns and calluses often get mixed up as they can have a similar presentation and cause. Corns are generally a small, circular lesion of hard skin and form in certain places. Callus is a diffuse area of hard that occurs generally on the plantar surface of the foot at the ball of the foot and heels. 

Corns can be very painful if left untreated as they press into the underlying healthy tissue of your skin. 

Corns are a protective mechanism of the body aiming to protect the area from getting traumatised by friction and pressure, however if they are left untouched it may cause complications such as ulceration and infection, more so if you have diabetes, poor blood supply or peripheral neuropathy. 

What are the most common signs of corns?

Some corns may be painful when they first develop due to their location, others may become painful as they become deeper and thicker into the skin.

  • Apical corns: these are on the tips of your toes 
  • Forefoot corns: these are located on the ball of your foot commonly under the big toe joint, 2nd metatarsal and the 5th (little toe) metatarsal
  • Dorsal digital corns: these are on the tops of your toes at the middle joint when your toes claw

Corns can be yellowish in colour and hard when touched. If the corn on foot lies in between the toes they may appear to be more flesh colour. 

Foot corns may feel rough or sharp and some report them to feel like they are walking on a rock or stone. 

The difference between hard and soft corns

There are many different types of corns. 

  • Hard corns: a dense area of hard skin, usually found on the bottom of the foot
  • Soft corns: thin outer layer, soft to feel, can be white/wet or red looking and found in between the toes 
  • Seed corns: look like dot lesions, usually multiple in a cluster and found on the ball of the foot and associated more with friction 

What are the causes and sources of corns?

Corns or calluses are mostly caused by pressure. Pressure and friction can occur on the feet in many ways. 

The way you are walking, running, competing or working may play a role. Your bones, muscles and tendons all work together in a certain way to complete the movement you require – if one location is overloaded a corn may form. 

Footwear also plays a major role, if a shoe is too narrow you may get interdigital soft corns, if a shoe is too shallow you may get apical corns and if a shoe is not holding you in the heel well you may get seed corns on the ball of your foot. 

Structural deformities such as bunions, claw toes, hammertoes or bony changes to the foot such as osteoarthritis, past surgery or trauma may all create compensatory pressure elsewhere as your body accommodates for movement. 

Smoking may be a causative factor with developing hard corns. 

How can corns on the foot be prevented?

Correct fitting footwear that allows enough space for your foot and gives you the correct support for your needs and foot type is very important. Ill-fitting shoes are going to cause compensatory pressures, particularly on the top and bottom of the foot. It is important to have shoes that fit properly according to your foot type that protect the painful area of skin and avoid corns and calluses where possible.

Wearing shoes rather than bare feet is great for shock absorption and can reduce the sharp sensation as you walk. Socks are an underrated necessity in foot health. Without socks, increased rubbing on common areas that corns develop may cause increased pain and reduced function.

Corns tend to return and continue to build up if the pressure is not reduced and repeated friction remains unchanged. A biomechanical assessment may be undertaken by a podiatrist, this will determine your best inventions. Met domes may be added to your footwear to help splay the balls of your foot, felt padding, gel toe separator and modifications may be trialled to assess a reduction in pain and insoles may be necessarily prescribed to limit your corn recurrence and increase your time between appointments. 

How to treat corns

Can you pop a foot corn? Can you squeeze a corn on your foot? Simply, the answer is no. 

At home treatments may include soaking the feet in warm water to help soft the skin, filing the top layer of the skin back to reduce the pain and pressure whilst you are walking and applying emollient especially with a urea base to break down the hard skin. 

For the removal of a foot corn a podiatrist should debride the hard skin and corn using equipment such as a scalpel. You should not attempt to remove the corn yourself by picking at it due to an increased risk of infection. 

Remember your feet change over time and it may be an ongoing issue, however we are here to help. Ongoing advice diagnosis or treatment can be needed due to factors such as occupation, hobbies,  and medical history change over a lifetime causing a range of symptoms or presentations of corns and calluses to typically form.

When to see a doctor

If you do not get relief of symptoms from your corn with conservative measures it is time to see a podiatrist! 

Corns can be debilitating and cause you to compensate for your walking pattern or break down the skin, both leading to further complications. It is important to get your corns assessed, removed and have measures put in place to reduce the time in which they come back with preventative measures put in place. 

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