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Corns Calluses



Hammertoe with Corn

A corn is a buildup of dead skin on the top of a toe, or at the end of a toe. A callus is a buildup of dead skin on the bottom of the foot. Both calluses (also spelled callouses) and corns develop as a result of excess pressure. Corns typically develop on the top of a hammertoe. The picture to the right illustrates the development of a corn on top of a hammertoe and at the tip of the toe near the toenail as well as under the ball of the foot.   

Calluses typically develop under the ball of the foot or the side of the foot. The pressure from the shoe causes friction and the body’s natural response is to build up the skin to protect it from breaking down. The result is a corn or a callus. Either can sometimes be very painful and become red and inflamed. Corns can also develop in between toes, in which case they are referred to as soft corns. Both corns and calluses are structural problems, not skin problems.

Calluses under the 2nd MPJ and 5th MPJCalluses build up in response to abnormal movement in the foot. When the foot rolls in too much (abnormal pronation), calluses build up on the inside of the big toe and at the heel. In the picture below, the central image shows callus development at the inside of the big toe (medial aspect of the hallux) and at the inside of the big toe joint (1st metatarsal phalangeal joint). This picture shows classic pronation calluses. Some callus buildup is not a problem, but too much callus buildup can cause pain and even lead to blister development under the callus which can be very painful.       

Corns can occur on the tops of toes, on the sides of toes or inbetween toes. The skin on the toes can become so irritated that a blister can sometimes develop under the corn and the surrounding skin can become red and irritated. The picture below and on the left shows a corn on the 5th toe with surrounding redness and irritation. Notice the rotation of the 5th toe and it's close proximity to the 4th toe. The combination of the toe deformity and improper shoe fit contributed to the development of this painful corn. The picture on the right shows the development of a corn between the toes. More on corn development between the toes on the Hammertoe Page.


Painful corn on the 5th toe Classic pronation calluses at the IPJ and MPJ Corn in between toes labeled


To treat corns and calluses, the pressure and friction needs to be relieved. For corns, a non-medicated corn pad or corn protector will help relieve the pressure, decrease pain and decrease tissue build up. Toe separators are desgined to go in between the toes to prevent rubbing and irritation.

Felt corn protectors on lesser toes

Foam toe separator placed between toes

Hammertoe Cushion Placement on foot

Horseshoe pad dispersing pressure on a painful bunion

Felt Corn Protectors Foam Toe Separators Hammertoe Cushions Horseshoe Pads

Hammertoe cushions will help straighten the toes when walking, reducing pain and rubbing. Horseshoe pads can be placed on the bottom or the side of the foot to help off-weight the painful callused area. Pads help to relieve the pain and irritation, but do not solve the mechanical problem. 

Abnormal motion, generally in the form of pronation, is generally the cause of the corn or callus development. Ill-fitting shoes are also another common reason for corn or callus development. Wearing a shoe with a wide and deep toe box is important to keep the pressure off of the top of the toes. More on shoe fit.

Orthotics can help control any abnormal motion (especially pronation) and help prevent callus development. Some individuals will need a custom made orthotic by a podiatrist. But, many can wear pre-fabricated inserts to help control abnormal motion which may be contributing to the development of the corn or callus.

Superfeet-Green-tn.jpg Prolab posted orthotics to control abnormal motion Prolab unposted orthotic semi-rigid designed to control motion
Superfeet Green Insoles Prolab P3 Posted Orthotics Prolab Unposted Orthotics

The most rigid insert most similiar to an orthotic made by a podiatrist is a Prolab polypropylene orthotic. A slightly more forgiving and cushioned popular insert, but still designed to control abnormal motion is a Superfeet insert. ArchMolds Heat Moldable insoles can be molded to your foot for better comfort and fit.

Once the pressure has been reduced and the motion has been controlled, the calluses and corns will slowly decrease. Applying callus reducing creams and gels will help reduce the existing callus tissue. Using a pummice stone will also help reduce callus tissue. But, it's important to remember that these techniques are more effective when they are used in combination with steps taken to remove the cause of the callus development. More information on products to help soften and remove callus tissue.

A corn or callus can't be surgically removed. The callus tissue can be taken down to help alleviate pain and irritation, but as long as the mechanical forces causing the corn or callus are still there, the callus tissue will always come back. A bunion or hammertoe which may be causing the corn or callus can be surgical treated when indicated. Discuss these options with your doctor. If the corn or callus is not painful, not causing redness or irritation, then no treatment is recommended. For individuals with diabetes or others with numbness in their feet, it is important for a podiatrist to remove the buildup of callus tissue on a regular basis to prevent ulceration.



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last updated 4/22/15

Disclaimer: The advice on this website is not intended to substitute for a visit to your health care provider. We will not be held liable for any diagnosis made or treatment recommended. Consult your doctor if you feel you have a medical problem.