Corns and callus (hard skin) are common problems associated with the feet. They are a debilitating and painful to the general population and can be a risk factor for infection for “at risk” patient groups such as diabetics.

Corns and callus usually develop over the bony prominences of the feet due to the increased pressure these locations. When supporting the body weight in walking and running the pressure on these areas increases dramatically as the skin is effectively pinched between the bones of the foot and the ground. This triggers a protective thickening of the skin. A common misconception is that corns are living tissue and have roots. Corns are actually nothing but dead skin.

Callus is a thickening of a section of the skin (stratum corneum) in response to mechanical pressure. The skin thickens in response to this pressure in order to protect itself from splitting. You will find callus in most areas where there is increased pressure on the skin, such as the heels and the balls of the feet are common areas for callus to develop.

Unfortunately when callus tissue develops in an area it is harder than the surrounding skin tissue. This hardness causes increased pressure now directly resulting form the callus formation (similar to having a stone in your shoe). Now that there is an extremely localized area of pressure application the skin thickens and hardens even further and forms a corn. Corns are most commonly cone shaped with the apex pointing towards the foot. When pressure is applied to the base of the corn this pushes the point of the corn into the foot usually resulting in a sharp stabbing pain.

Corns and callus are found more often in people who are on their feet all day. Poor fitting footwear is another factor in the development of corns. Tight fitting footwear that constricts the forefoot will cause corns to develop on the dorsum (top) of the foot and toes.

Initial treatment of corns and callus involves a visit to the local podiatrist for the corns to be removed and the callus tissue to be pared down. Once this is done the factors that are causing the corns and callus can be addressed such as excess pronation and skin dryness.

Excess pronation is treated with the use of a foot orthotic. Dry skin is best treated using an emollient (moisturizer) containing 10-25% urea cream. When applied daily this will keep the skin supple and may retard the growth of corns and callus.