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This week let’s talk about a fairly common foot issue that a lot of us face, calluses and corns.  I realized that there is quite a bit to talk about with calluses and corns so I’ve split this topic up into two parts.  This week we will talk about what calluses and corns are and what can cause them. The following week we will talk more about how we can treat and prevent them.

People often use the term callus and corn interchangeably.  Although there are some commonalities between the two, they are actually quite different.  So let’s learn more about what they are and what can cause them.

What are calluses and corns?

Calluses and corns are thick, hardened layers of skin that develop as a form of protection from any repetitive pressure, injury, or friction. 

A callus will typically appear slightly yellow or opaque white in colour and a little rough when touched.  They vary in size and form a thickened layer of skin over a wide disbursed area.  The skin may be less sensitive when touched compared with the area around it. 

Corns, on the other hand, are usually small and circular with a clearly defined center.  They are a plug of skin caused by a focal pressure.  People will often describe having a corn as “constantly stepping on a pebble”.  They can be difficult to detect because they can be masked by a layer of callus on-top.  Corns can also form in between toes where there is friction or rubbing caused by either a bony deformity/prominence or constrictive/tight footwear.  These interdigital (between the toes) corns will typically appear more spongy, rubbery and soft in texture because the space between your toes tends to accumulate moisture.

There is a less common type of corn called seed corns.  They are thought to be plugged sweat glands that can appear anywhere on the foot.  Seed corns are tiny discrete calluses that can be asymptomatic but if located on a weight-bearing surface, can feel tender.

What causes calluses and corns?

Ill-fitting Footwear:

Tight or narrow shoes can create pressure along the sides of your feet and even in between the toes.  Narrow footwear can compress your toes together and cause excessive friction.  Your shoes can also press on bony surfaces such as bunions and hammer toes if they aren’t wide enough or too shallow in the toe-box area.  Making sure the insole of your shoe has ample cushioning and padding can also help to prevent unwanted pressure along the balls and heels of your feet.

Bony Deformity:

Bony protrusions from bunions, hammer toes, and claw toes can rub against the inside of your shoes and cause painful callus and corns to form.  Bunions can also cause overlapping of toes which, if not properly padded, can lead to those pesky corns to form in between.  Certain conditions such as retracted toes or bony spurs can also lead to an increase in pressure to the bottom of your feet.

High-heel shoes:

To all my high-heel shoe wearers!  You are at most risk of developing calluses and corns.  Not only are high-heel shoes narrow in shape, but the position of your feet inside them can cause up to 90% of your full body weight to be shifted to your forefoot!  This can lead to callus build-up under the balls of your feet, as well as corn development between the toes and on the sides of your feet.  So let’s try our best to limit high-heel shoe wearing.

Seams and Stitches:

Remember to take into consideration the seams and stitches along the inside of your shoes.  Rough seams and stitches can cause irritation and friction to the feet.  The best way to check this is to stick your hands inside your shoes and feel around. 


The way we walk can also lead to callus and corn formation too.  Improper walking motions can lead to repetitive pressure to certain joints or transferring of pressure from one area to another.  A chiropodist may conduct a biomechanical and gait assessment to determine exactly what is going on and whether offloading or orthotic therapy is a good treatment option for you.


Some people may notice that as they age, calluses begin to appear on their feet.  This is actually quite common.  As we age, the fatty tissue in our feet begins to lessen.  What was once there to help cushion and pad the bones in our feet is no longer there.  This can lead to development of calluses especially in the balls of our feet.

Shoes without socks:

Our socks help to cushion our feet inside our shoes and prevent any frictional forces.  Similar to being aware of the seams and stitches in our shoes, we should also be aware of them inside our socks.  Diabetic socks can be a good option as these socks are made without seams which can help to decrease any form of irritation.

Stay tuned until next week where we will talk more about how we can treat calluses and corns and discuss ways to prevent them from growing back. 

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