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Corns and Calluses


James G. H. Dinulos

, MD, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Reviewed/Revised May 2023
Topic Resources

Corns are hard cone-shaped bumps of skin commonly found on the top surface of the smaller toes, particularly over a joint. Calluses are broader, flat thickenings of the skin usually located on the palms or soles.

  • Corns may be painful or tender, but calluses do not usually cause symptoms.

  • Diagnosis is based on the appearance and location of the corn or callus.

  • Removing the corn or callus, applying skin softening agents (keratolytics) to the area, and regularly receiving care from a podiatrist can help.

Corns and calluses are usually caused by intermittent friction and pressure, particularly in people who wear tight or ill-fitting shoes.

Corns caused by hammer toe Hammer Toe Hammer toe is a toe that is bent in a fixed Z-shaped position. Pain may be felt when people wear certain shoes, and some people have pain in the ball of the foot. Diagnosis is based on an examination... read more Hammer Toe and other toe deformities often develop on the tops of or at the tips of the toes, but corns most often develop on the tops of the toes over joints. These corns are hard. Corns that develop between the toes are soft. Corns may be pea-sized or slightly larger.

Calluses often develop on the ball of the foot because of faulty foot positioning and poor weight distribution. Calluses also develop on the sides of the feet in areas where pressure is increased.

Symptoms of Corns and Calluses

Corns may be painful or tender when pressure is applied. A fluid-filled sac (bursa) sometimes forms beneath a corn.

Calluses usually do not cause symptoms. However, if friction is extreme, calluses may become thick and irritated, which causes a mild burning sensation, or sometimes a pain like that caused by damage to the nerves in the foot Damage to the Nerves in the Foot Irritation of interdigital nerves (in the balls of the feet) may cause enlargement of the nerves, causing pain in the balls of the feet. Typical symptoms include a mild ache around the third... read more (interdigital nerve pain).

Diagnosis of Corns and Calluses

  • A doctor's examination

Doctors diagnose corns and calluses based on their appearance and where they develop.

Treatment of Corns and Calluses

  • Removal

  • Keratolytics

  • Padding and orthoses

To remove thickened skin, people can use a nail file, emery board, or pumice stone immediately after bathing. People can apply keratolytics Keratolytics Topical drugs (drugs applied directly to the skin) are a mainstay of treating skin disorders. Systemic drugs are taken by mouth or given by injection and are distributed throughout the body... read more (agents that soften, loosen, and help the top layer of skin shed) to the affected areas.

To prevent corns and help treat existing corns, people can use cushioning and devices that redistribute pressure from the affected areas. Padding of various sorts (for example, felt or moleskin or foam-rubber protective bandages) and devices placed in the shoe (orthoses) or other inserts that have padding and support can help reduce pressure. Dells, which are holes cut through part of the footwear beneath the area that is painful, can also help reduce pressure and pain.

Regular care from a podiatrist (a doctor specializing in foot care) is helpful for people who have a tendency to develop calluses and corns. Proper foot care is important (see Caring for the Feet Foot care Occlusive peripheral arterial disease is blockage or narrowing of an artery in the legs (or rarely the arms), usually due to atherosclerosis and resulting in decreased blood flow. Symptoms depend... read more Foot care ).

People who have disorders that impair normal nerve function (neuropathy) and circulation of blood, such as diabetes, are at increased risk of developing open sores (ulcers) in their feet when the skin is damaged (see sidebar The Foot in Diabetes Foot problems in diabetes People with diabetes mellitus have many serious long-term complications that affect many areas of the body, particularly the blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys. (See also Diabetes Mellitus... read more Foot problems in diabetes ). These ulcers can become infected. Doctors may choose not to surgically treat corns and calluses in people who have these underlying disorders. In these cases, special shoes and shoe inserts that reduce pressure over the affected area may be necessary and beneficial.

People should be taught how to inspect their feet for ulcers at home and how to prevent ulcers.

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