Overview

Corns and calluses are thick, hardened layers of skin that develop when your skin tries to protect itself against friction and pressure. They most often develop on the feet and toes or hands and fingers. Corns and calluses can be unsightly.

If you're healthy, you need treatment for corns and calluses only if they cause discomfort. For most people, simply eliminating the source of friction or pressure makes corns and calluses disappear.

If you have diabetes or another condition that causes poor blood flow to your feet, you're at greater risk of complications from corns and calluses. Seek your doctor's advice on proper care for corns and calluses if you have such a condition.

Symptoms

You may have a corn or a callus if you notice:

  • A thick, rough area of skin
  • A hardened, raised bump
  • Tenderness or pain under your skin
  • Flaky, dry or waxy skin

Corns and calluses are not the same thing.

  • Corns are smaller than calluses and have a hard center surrounded by inflamed skin. Corns tend to develop on parts of your feet that don't bear weight, such as the tops and sides of your toes and even between your toes. They can also be found in weight-bearing areas. Corns can be painful when pressed.
  • Calluses are rarely painful. They usually develop on the soles of your feet, especially under the heels or balls, on your palms, or on your knees. Calluses vary in size and shape and are often larger than corns.

When to see a doctor

If a corn or callus becomes very painful or inflamed, see your doctor. If you have diabetes or poor blood flow, call your doctor before self-treating a corn or callus because even a minor injury to your foot can lead to an infected open sore (ulcer).

Causes

Pressure and friction from repetitive actions cause corns and calluses to develop and grow. Some sources of this pressure and friction include:

  • Wearing ill-fitting shoes. Tight shoes and high heels can compress areas of your feet. When footwear is too loose, your foot may repeatedly slide and rub against the shoe. Your foot may also rub against a seam or stitch inside the shoe.
  • Skipping socks. Wearing shoes and sandals without socks can cause friction on your feet. Socks that don't fit properly also can be a problem.
  • Playing instruments or using hand tools. Calluses on your hands may result from the repeated pressure of playing instruments, using hand tools or even writing.

Risk factors

These factors may increase your risk of corns and calluses:

  • Bunions. A bunion is an abnormal, bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of your big toe.
  • Hammertoe. A hammertoe is a deformity in which your toe curls like a claw.
  • Other foot deformities. Certain conditions, such as a bone spur, can cause constant rubbing inside your shoe.
  • Not protecting your hands. Using hand tools without wearing gloves exposes your skin to excessive friction.

Prevention

These approaches may help you prevent corns and calluses:

  • Wear shoes that give your toes plenty of room. If you can't wiggle your toes, your shoes are too tight. Have a shoe shop stretch your shoes at any point that rubs or pinches.
  • Use protective coverings. Wear felt pads, nonmedicated corn pads or bandages over areas that rub against your footwear. You can also try toe separators or some lamb's wool between your toes.
  • Wear padded gloves when using hand tools. Or try padding your tool handles with cloth tape or covers.