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Calluses and their smaller cousins, corns, are common and usually minor foot issues. However, they can become problematic and require professional removal.
Here to help you discern the difference between a harmless callus and one needing medical attention, Dr. Matthew Cerniglia at Ankle and Foot Institute of Texas explains how calluses develop, how to prevent them, what you can do at home to address them, and when it’s best to see him for removal.
Calluses are simply thickened skin patches. They can appear anywhere but are particularly common on the feet and toes.
These thick, hardened patches of skin often appear dry and cracked and are sometimes white or yellowish in color. Your heels often develop calluses, and corns, a smaller version of a callus, tend to crop up on your toes.
If you have calluses on your feet, you may feel self-conscious about wearing sandals or going barefoot because they can be unsightly. However, calluses are almost always harmless.
In a word — friction. Repeated friction and excess pressure on your skin can trigger your cells to multiply, forming a thick, protective layer or callus.
People who use tools daily or play sports that require repetitive gripping often develop calluses on their hands. A callus crops on your feet when you wear tight shoes that constantly rub your skin. But you can get calluses even if your shoes fit well because your body weight alone is enough to trigger a reaction in your skin.
You can do a lot to prevent calluses from forming. Start by wearing shoes that fit properly and don’t rub your skin. If you have a pair of favorite shoes that put pressure on specific areas, use over-the-counter moleskin pads to cushion your skin and relieve pressure and friction.
Calluses set off a cycle of friction and pressure: The initial friction causes the callus to form, then the added volume of the resulting callus facilitates even more pressure and rubbing.
You can break the cycle by reducing minor calluses with at-home treatments. Try soaking your feet in warm water to soften the calluses, and then gently exfoliate the calluses with a pumice stone or foot file. Be careful not to remove healthy skin or to take your callus too far down, as you may create an open wound. Apply thick moisturizing cream after the treatment.
Ointments containing salicylic acid may also help remove dead skin and calluses. After a warm-water soak, dry your skin thoroughly and apply the ointment. Dr. Cerniglia can recommend effective products and advise you about the application procedure.
Never try to cut away your calluses, as you may injure yourself and make the matter worse.
Calluses typically don’t require medical attention, but there are a few scenarios where it’s best to visit Dr. Cerniglia for routine foot care.
Diabetes is known for elevating your blood sugar, and high blood sugar damages nerves — especially in your feet. Nerve damage, or neuropathy, makes it difficult or impossible to feel pain, so you can’t tell when you have a blister, a cut, or a callus.
We recommend working closely with Dr. Cerniglia if you have diabetes, so he can monitor your foot health and remove calluses when necessary.
Calluses and corns can be uncomfortable, often feeling like you have a pebble in your shoe. Pain is a legitimate reason to get your callus removed.
Calluses are thick, rough, and paler than your surrounding skin. If your calluses swell, turn red, or ooze pus or blood, it’s time to see Dr. Cerniglia.
Recurrent foot calluses may indicate a problem with your gait. Dr. Cerniglia can remove your calluses and evaluate your walking pattern and foot structure to determine if a few adjustments or different shoes can keep calluses at bay.
If you have a problematic foot callus, contact us online or by phone to schedule an appointment with Dr. Cerniglia and go callus-free this year.