Corns can be a pain. Quite literally. But why do you get them in the first place, how do they differ from calluses, and how do you get rid of them?
Let's answer all those questions!
What are corns?
Corns are hardened areas of skin, similar to calluses. However, corns are generally smaller, round in size and can be painful. Corns also tend to only form on your feet, while you can get calluses on both your hands and your feet.
Corns can be either hard or soft. Soft ones are usually found between your toes, as the skin there is moist - keeping them soft.
How do you get corns?
Both calluses and corns form when there's friction. A labourer's hands, for example, is usually filled with calluses as they develop to protect the hands.
Corns form to protect the soft tissue of your feet, but unlike with calluses, the skin is sometimes inflamed and can, therefore, be painful. It can also be painful if the corn presses into deeper layers of skin in the foot, even if it's not inflamed.
Furthermore, corns can develop not only from friction but also from bone pressure in a particular area of the foot.
As a general rule, you get corns from wearing shoes that are either too small or too big. If the shoes squeeze your toes together (that goes for high heels as well), that can cause unnecessary friction. As can wearing too-tight shoes that rub against your skin in one spot, or too loose shoes that makes your feet slide inside the shoes, causing friction.
You can also get corns from wearing shoes that put too much pressure on one area of your foot. For example, high heels tend to put unnecessary pressure on different parts of your feet.
As we grow older, the fatty tissue in our skin becomes depleted. This can lead to more calluses, as the feet become less padded.
Likewise, bony feet seem to be more prone to calluses.
You may also have feet that are somewhat unusually shaped, therefore putting pressure on a specific area. Check in with a doctor to see if you need padded shoe inserts.
When buying shoes, don't go shopping first thing in the morning. Stay on your feet for a while, so that the feet are warm and a bit more swollen - like they would be at the end of the day. This ensures you don't buy too shoes that are too small.
Are corns contagious?
No, corns are just thickened skin developed as a reaction to friction and/or pressure. Corns form to protect the soft tissue in your feet.
If you develop inflammation in or around the corn and it omits any kind of discharge, then you should treat it as a wound and wash your hands after touching it.
How do you treat corns?
For most people, home treatment is all that's needed for corns. These are some popular home treatments for corns:
- Warm foot baths followed by rubbing the area with either a pumice stone, nail file, emery board, or washcloth (beware not to scrape off too much skin, as it can cause inflammation)
- Apply a natural moisturiser, such as aloe vera, followed by a natural butter, such as cacao butter, or shea butter, possibly mixed with an oil, such as olive oil
- You can also use a foot cream throughout the day
- To remove pressure on the corn, use a corn pad that does not contain any chemicals (usually looks like a doughnut with a hole for the corn)
- Follow the tips below for prevention
- Corn removal pens and corn pads containing either salicylic acid or trichloroacetic acid (use this as a last resort)
Salicylic acid and trichloroacetic acid can irritate the skin and are best used under medical supervision. If misused, these acids can make the situation worse by causing inflammation. Neither acid should be used if you have diabetes, poor circulation, or heart problems.
When should you see a doctor about your corns?
You should see your GP if you have a corn and:
- It's excruciatingly painful
- The corn looks inflamed (red or swollen), bleeds, or omits pus
- You have diabetes, poor blood circulation, or heart disease/heart problems
- You have tried home remedies for some time, but the corn won't go away, and it's annoying you
If you develop a corn and have underlying circulatory problems, suffer from heart disease or other heartproblems, or have diabetes, you should immediately seek medical attention.
How can you prevent corns?
As previously mentioned, buying well-fitted shoes that don't come with too high heels is a great starting point. In general, avoid any shoe that's too tight, too loose, squeeze your toes, or put unnecessary pressure on one area of your foot.
Soft socks can also help prevent corns, as can footpads (such as heel pads), and soft insoles. Make sure to buy shoes with good soles that have some padding, too. Not only will it help prevent corns, but it will also help protect your feet!
And remember, even if you have to wear a particular style of shoes to work or social functions, you don't have to wear them when travelling to or from there. Don't put them on until last minute and take them off as soon as you can! If you have a lunch break when you go for a walk, change to walking shoes.
Keep your skin soft by using natural moisturisers and vegetable oils or butters, as well as using a pumice stone regularly on your feet. Don't overuse the pumice stone though - you don't want to scrape off too much skin!
How to get rid of corns
Corns are generally harmless, but if very painful, omitting pus, red or swollen, you should seek medical help. You should also seek medical help if you have heart problems, diabetes, or poor circulation and develop a corn.
To prevent and treat corns, wear shoes that fit, use soft socks and insoles and/or footpads. It's also a good idea to keep your feet moisturised, and use a pumice stone regularly (after having a foot bath, or shower). If you've already developed a corn, try using doughnut-shaped corn pads to remove the pressure from the corn and prevent further irritation.