A pearl forms when shellfish-like oysters build a layer of calcium around an irritant that they can’t remove from their soft inner bodies. This is a normal process of nature and the results can be breathtaking. Something similar happens in your body, too—especially in your hands and feet—as a corn or callus forms. Unfortunately, the result is not beautiful like a pearl, and the only time it may make you catch your breath is if it causes you pain!
Anatomy of a Corn or Callus
Friction from tools can cause these dry skin spots to form on your hands. With feet, it’s more likely that your shoes or pressure on your feet will cause them to develop. Your skin responds to friction and pressure by forming more cells at the spot of the irritation. As the layers build up, the outside cells die off from loss of contact with blood supply. The dead skin cells turn dry and hard.
Calluses form on the bottom or sole of your foot. They can occur because of walking barefoot (which puts direct pressure on the outer skin layer), pressure from shoes, or friction as your foot slides around in a pair that doesn’t fit well. Your heel and the ball of your foot have the most contact with these surfaces, so dry, hard skin often forms there. If you have a deformity like a bunion, the altered bone position and gait can cause one on the side of your big toe, too. These dry skin patches usually don’t cause pain.
Corns can form on the tops or between your toes. Toe deformities like hammer or claw toes, where joints bend up and rub against the top of your shoe, are a major reason. When your feet are pinched too tightly, one can also form between the toes, but because the area is moist with sweat, they will be soft, rather than dry and hard. A hard growth on your toe can put pressure on the tender tissue underneath and cause pain.
Handling the Pressure
Since these problems are often caused by ill-fitting footwear, your socks and shoes are the place to start. Socks should be snug enough to mold securely to your feet without bunching up, but not so tight that they pinch anywhere. They should also be of a fabric that doesn’t trap moisture against your skin.
Shoes need to have adequate room for your toes to lie flat without rubbing against each other. They also need enough depth in the toe to handle the upraised bumps from toe deformities or arthritic changes. A good cushioned insole can also help absorb the pressure of your weight and the impact from the ground.
If you have a very painful corn or callus, you may need to limit your activity a bit while it heals. You can try the pads and donuts available at pharmacies or supermarkets to protect the hard spots of skin and keep irritation away. You can also try to soak it in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes and then gently slough away the dead skin with an emery board or pumice stone. NOTE: if you have diabetes, be sure to seek help for any foot sores, calluses, or corns that develop. Trying to treat them yourself could lead to more damage and serious consequences.
When Home Care Methods Are Not Enough
If your corn or callus does not improve with the remedies, schedule an evaluation with Dr. Matthew Paden, Dr. Brett D. Sachs, or Dr. Dustin Kruse in Wheat Ridge, CO. We can pare down the skin safely with a scalpel, or apply a medication that will help dissolve them. We will follow this up with an antibiotic ointment to prevent an infection or prescribe a shoe insert to prevent their return. If a misaligned bone is causing ongoing problems, it may need to be corrected surgically.
Call Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center at (303) 423-2520 to set up an appointment, or you can request one online. Be sure to keep in touch with us on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for up-to-date foot care information as well.