What are calluses?
Calluses are areas of skin that grow thicker to protect that area from frequent irritation. Since we spend a lot of time walking, calluses are primarily found on feet. Calluses develop when something repeatedly rubs against your skin with pressure.
Many consider calluses unsightly and inconvenient, but they are the symptom of a problem with frequent friction to your skin. Calluses develop as your body’s way to protect your skin from damage. Underneath, there are fluid-filled sacs, also called bursal sacs, that act as shock absorbers for your body.
Signs and symptoms of calluses
Calluses tend to have a dull appearance and are rough to the touch. They may be raised and rounded or flush with the surrounding skin. You can look at and feel the skin surrounding a callus to see if there is a difference in texture and thickness. Calluses feel hard compared to the softer, fleshy skin on the bottom of your feet.
What causes calluses?
Calluses are caused by frequent friction against your skin. Specific reasons you may have calluses on your feet include:
- Tight or loose shoes – Tight shoes cause pressure that may cause your feet to develop calluses. Similarly, loose shoes may move around too much, rubbing on your feet and causing irritation.
- Foot deformities – If your foot is misshapen due to a condition like hammertoe or claw toe then shoes may fit poorly, causing calluses.
- High heels – Shoes with high heels put added pressure on the ball of your foot instead of distributing your weight evenly.
- Stitches and inseams – Shoes or socks with poorly placed stitching can cause irritation
How are calluses diagnosed?
Calluses are diagnosed by a physical assessment of their appearance and location. Calluses may be confused for other skin conditions like corns and warts, so additional diagnostic tests can eliminate the possibility of other skin conditions.
The term callus is used to describe skin on the bottoms of your feet. If skin grows thick on top of your feet or toes, it's called a corn. Calluses are usually wide and cover a larger portion of skin. Corns are smaller and often deeper than calluses. Warts typically have a rough, cauliflower-like texture, but they are occasionally smooth and flat.
Treatments for calluses
There are many ways to treat calluses from home. These methods include:
- Soak your feet – Warm water will soften the skin on your feet. This step is completed in advance of removing the thickened skin or applying a moisturizer.
- File the callus – Use a pumice stone to rub the callus in a circular motion to remove dead skin. Don’t overdo it. Taking off too much skin leaves you prone to infection and bleeding.
- Apply a moisturizer – Look for a lotion that contains the active ingredients of salicylic acid, ammonium lactate, or urea. Rub the moisturizer into your skin soon after showering when your skin is still damp.
- Protect your skin – Use a thick piece of fabric to cushion your callus, preventing further irritation. You can even find pre-cut pads at your local drugstore to use in your shoes.
- Trim your toenails – Long toenails may force your foot further back in your shoe, causing irregular pressure and rubbing over time.
If your calluses are persistent, talk to your doctor. After assessing your condition, he may refer you to a podiatrist, which is a doctor who specializes in foot care. A podiatrist can carefully shave off the extra skin caused by calluses.
In rare cases, plantar calluses form if you have one metatarsal bone that is longer or lower than the others. In this case, one bone in your foot hits the ground first, causing a callus that feels like a rock in your shoe. Your doctor may have to do surgery to correct his bone deformity and prevent the callus from returning.
Remember, calluses will continue to occur unless you address the reason for friction and pressure on your feet. Buy shoes that fit correctly, and consider purchasing shoe inserts that help distribute your weight evenly over the soles of your feet.
Skin Problems and Treatments Resources
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Academy of Dermatology Association: "How to treat corns and calluses."
American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society: "What are corns and calluses."
American Podiatric Medical Association: "What is a corn? What is a callus?"
Harvard Medical School: "Finding relief from calluses and corns."
Vascular Health Clinics: "Foot calluses."