The pressure of calluses
Our feet play an important role in getting us around. When we walk or stand, our feet carry the burden of our body weight, as well as the various pressures from movements and the constraints of footwear.
Sometimes, pressure placed on the foot becomes out of balance or extra friction falls on particular areas of the foot. When this happens, the body may respond to the pressure by producing thickenings in the surface layer of the skin.
These hard patches of skin are called calluses and are part of the body's defence system to protect the underlying tissue. If the cause of pressure is not relieved, calluses become painful.
So what about corns?
If pressure becomes concentrated in a small area, a ‘hard’ corn may develop.
Sometimes the pressure of the corn or callus may produce underlying inflammation, which can result in acute pain, swelling and redness. Sometimes 'soft' corns may form between the toes where the skin Is moist from sweat or inadequate drying.
These appear white and rubbery and are also caused by excessive friction or pressure.
Corns and calluses are most often found on the balls of the feet or the tops of the toes.
They can also be found on heels and even along the sides of toenails.
What causes calluses and corns?
Calluses and corns are generally signs of underlying problems and, in some cases, early warning signals of more complex foot disorders.
Because they are caused by continuous pressure in one particular area, they may indicate abnormalities or deformity in bone structure or in the way a person walks.
Often calluses and corns are caused by ill-fitting or inappropriate footwear.
Who gets calluses and corns?
In fact, calluses and corns affect more people than any other kind of foot problem.
Some people have a natural tendency to develop calluses because of their skin type.
For instance, elderly people have less fatty tissue and flexibility in their feet and, because of a lack of padding, calluses may form on the bottom of the foot.
Also, people who work in occupations that require them to spend a lot of time on their feet are prone to developing calluses.
How to treat corns and calluses
The most important thing to remember about trca.ting calluses and corns is never to do it yourself without seeing a specialist first Because calluses are generally symptoms of other problems, it is important to have a podiatrist examine your feet to work out what could be causing the pressure.
Over-the-counter remedies, such as corn paint or plasters, generally only treat the symptoms, not the underlying problem. They can also easily damage the healthy skin surrounding the corn if not used properly. Commercial preparations should only be used following professional advice. In people with poor circulation or with medical conditions such as diabetes, the use of medicated corn plasters can be very dangerous.
It is important that you never cut corns or calluses yourself. In the warm, moist confines of enclosed shoes infections can easily develop and small cuts can quickly become serious wounds.
Seeing your podiatrist
Your podiatrist will not only recommend ways to relieve pain and get rid of the corn or callus, but can also help with isolating the cause and preventing the problem from recurring.
To treat painful corns, your podiatrist will gently remove some of the hard skin of the callus so that the centre of the corn can be removed.
To allow the callus to heal and prevent future cases, your podiatrist may redistribute pressure on the foot with soft padding and strapping or deflective appliances that fit into your shoes.
For corns on the toes, small foam or silicone wedges are useful for relieving pressure on affected areas. For older patients suffering from calluses on the soles of the feet, extra shock absorption for the ball of the foot can help compensate for loss of natural padding.
Your podiatrist may also discuss the type of footwear most likely to cause corns and calluses. In some cases, special shoe inserts (orthoses) may be prescribed to reduce excessive weight-bearing forces on the foot and provide long-term relief.
Preventing corns and calluses and caring for your feet
The best way to prevent the development of calluses and corns is to pay attention to your feet when you feel there is extra pressure on specific areas. Properly fitting shoes are essential, especially if you spend long periods of time on your feet, and it is important that you never wear others people's shoes.
A moisturiser used daily will help to keep your skin supple. But don't forget that these problems are caused by pressure! If you feel you may be developing a callus or corn, or you already have one, the best thing to do is seek professional advice and treatment from your local podiatrist.