Corns & Calluses

Corns and calluses both present as painful lumps that can make you feel like you’re constantly walking on pebbles – no matter what shoes you’re wearing or how soft the surface you’re walking on. Despite having both a similar appearance and the same cause, corns and calluses are different problems – and knowing which one you have can be the difference between getting that much-needed relief or continuing to put up with the pain.



What causes corns and calluses to appear?


The simple answer: pressure and friction


Corns and calluses both develop as a natural response to friction and pressure to the skin. It’s actually a protective mechanism by which your body tries to limit further damage – imagine that you’re getting constant rubbing against fragile skin. While this is ongoing, it may lead to a break in the skin – leaving your feet vulnerable to infection and other problems.


Instead, your body responds by thickening the skin in this area to withstand the pressure and friction. As a result, a thicker layer of dead skin forms – this is the foundation of both callus and corns, though corns are significantly more localised whereas callus can be widespread across the surface of the foot.


Initially, the thickened skin will purely have a beneficial and protective function. Unfortunately, as it continues to build, it can start to become uncomfortable and ultimately painful to walk on.



What’s the difference between a corn and callus?


Both corns and calluses look like thickened yellow-ish lumps on the bottoms of the feet – most often at the ball of the feet, the heels and the toes, though they can appear anywhere. The main difference is that a callus forms on the outside of the skin, whether it be localised to a small stone-like area or the entire heel, whereas corns develop at pin-points of significant pressure which forms a hard cone-like area of hard, dead skin that protrudes into the skin. In most cases, corns are covered by some callus too, meaning that the overlying callus must be taken care of first and then the corn must be treated.



The types of corns


While there is only one type of callus, there are multiple types of corns, though the most common is the hard corn which is what most people are referring to when they have a corn.


  • Hard corn this is the typical type with a firm core, usually found over the joints of the toes, at the sides of the toes or under the heel or ball of the foot
  • Soft corn these are found between the toes, often appear white, and are rubbery in texture due to the skin being damp from absorbing moisture
  • Seed corn – these are very small corns which often occur in clusters on the soles of the feet in people with dry skin
  • Neurovascular corn – this is a type of hard corn in which blood vessels and nerves become involved. They are often very painful and can be difficult to treat



Treating corns and calluses


Both corns and calluses can be removed safely, effectively and without any pain in one appointment by our podiatry team. Calluses are reduced in size to leave a comfortable layer of skin, immediately relieving any discomfort. It’s important to still leave a small (and often unnoticeable) layer as your skin developed this for a reason.


Corns have any overlying callus reduced and are then ‘scooped out’, again painlessly, instantly removing the feeling of walking on a pebble and giving you a noticeable difference when your feet touch the ground. The reason that both of these processes are painless is that we are working with dead skin that has no feeling.




Can I use a corn pad to get rid of the corn on my foot?

We highly recommend against using corn pads. This is because these pads typically contain a type of acid that is designed to ‘eat away’ at the skin and corn. This acid agent cannot tell the difference between the dead skin that forms the corn and the healthy skin that surrounds the corn. This puts you at risk of the acid coming in contact with the surrounding skin and causing skin damage and pain which may be worse than the discomfort of the corn itself.


Can you freeze a corn on your foot?

Freezing (known as cryotherapy) is typically a treatment option for plantar warts as opposed to corns. There is no need for corns to be frozen because they can be simply and painlessly removed by your podiatrist in just a few minutes.


Why do my corns and calluses keep coming back?

Corns and calluses are caused by pressure or friction to an area of the foot. As long as the pressure continues, corns and calluses may keep coming back because the thick callus that develops is actually a natural way that your body tries to protect the skin from having a break – by thickening the skin instead. If you’d like to stop your corns and calluses from coming back, or at least slow their progression, you need to address this excess pressure which your podiatrist can help with.


How long do corns and calluses take to go away?

Only one appointment! We’ll use a scalpel to painlessly scoop out the corn and debride the callus to a comfortable and safe level. This is all completed within one 30-minute appointment. Most people walk out feeling noticeably more comfortable and “lighter” on their feet.


How do you tell the difference between a corn and a wart?

As both corns and callus can develop callus on top of them, it can be difficult to tell the two apart. Generally speaking, corns tend to have a deeper, darkened circular appearance and do not protrude as a big mass above the skin (though the callus may protrude on top of it). If you push directly down onto the corn, you’ll likely elicit some pain. You won’t have so much pain when you squeeze the corn from the sides, however. It’s also unlikely that there will have been any bleeding in the area of the corn given that a corn is composed of dead skin, so you shouldn’t expect to see dried blood or any blood vessels to the area.


With warts, you may notice a rougher, uneven-looking mass that tends to protrude above the skin – as well as being situated well below it too. You may need to remove the overlying callus to notice this, however. Applying direct pressure down onto the wart may or may not cause pain but squeezing the wart from both sides will very likely cause you to jump. You’ll likely notice some dried blood in the area, which may look like small brown dots, or the wart may even bleed when you remove the overlying callus (don’t worry – this is completely normal). You’ll also notice that the lines in the skin move around the wart, whereas in corns the lines tend to go over and through the corn.


Even qualified health professionals have a hard time differentiating corns and warts, particularly when there is callus involved, so we recommend seeing a podiatrist if you’d like to confirm your diagnosis.