A callus is an area of skin that thickens in response to repeated friction, pressure, or other irritation. Calluses are generally not painful but may sometimes lead to other problems, such as skin ulcerations or infections, which can be painful. If a mass of dead cells develops in the center of a callus, this is called a corn. Corns tend to need more attention and sometimes surgery. Calluses generally occur on the feet and hands. Abnormal anatomy of the feet, such as hammertoe or other toe deformities, can make corn or callus formation more likely. Footwear that is too tight may cause blisters, which can lead to corns and calluses. Finger calluses may develop in response to using tools, playing musical instruments, or using work equipment that exerts pressure at specific sites.
- Tool Use: Calluses on the fingers and hands are frequently caused by gripping something through a repetitive action like turning a screwdriver, or using a hammer. Also, in weight lifting, it is common to develop calluses along the base of each finger, from the rubbing of metal weights on the hands. Guitar players often require calluses on their fingers in order to have better mastery over the strings.
- Footwear: The feet and toes are the most vulnerable to the development of calluses. Shoes that do not fit or shoes worn for long distances will contribute to blister and callus formation.
- No Socks: Socks are an essential extra layer that protect the feet from friction. When you do not wear socks, your body responds by forming calluses to take on the padding role of the sock. Wearing socks will reduce the likelihood of callus formation.
- Blisters: Blisters are often the first stage of a callus. As they are healing, the new skin that appears is often thick and protective. It’s as if the body is protecting itself from future rubbing and blisters.
- Instruments: Playing a guitar without any calluses can be uncomfortable. Many musicians purposefully create calluses to numb their fingers from the pain.
The skin is thick and hardened; the skin may be flaky and dry; and these things might make it hard to walk properly or to complete certain tasks.
How calluses are formed
Several factors can put you at a greater risk of developing calluses:
- Bunions, Hammertoe, or Other Foot Deformities: A bunion is an abnormal, bony bump that forms on the joint at the base of your big toe. A hammertoe is a toe deformity where your toe curls up like a claw. These conditions and other foot deformities, such as a bone spur, mean that most shoes will not fit properly. You are at greater risk of constant rubbing and blister formation.
- Not Protecting Your Hands: Using hand tools without wearing gloves puts your hands at greater risk of excessive friction.
- Not wearing Socks: Socks protect the feet from friction inside the shoe or boot. Without them, your chances of developing blisters and calluses go way up.
- Shoes That Do Not Fit: Shoes that are too big or too small increase the likelihood of blisters and calluses.
Unless a callus is causing pain, it generally does not require treatment. If they do cause pain, the treatment goal is to remove the source of the pressure or friction and then give it time to heal. These include carefully choosing your footwear, using a pumice stone, and using over-the-counter salicylic acid products. Depending on the location of the callus there are several treatment options.
- You can have your doctor trim the callus or corn with a small knife.
- Reduce the size of the callus or corn yourself by soaking it in warm water and then lightly using a pumice stone to wear away the dead skin. Never cut the corn or callus by yourself, especially if you have diabetes or other conditions that cause circulatory problems or numbness.
- Wear shoes that fit well and are roomy, with wide and deep toe boxes (the area that surrounds the toes). A wider toe box keeps the toes from pressing against each other, relieving pressure on soft corns. A deeper toe box keeps the toes from pressing against the top of the shoe. Thicker soles can help relieve pressure on calluses on the soles of the feet.
- Foot Soak: Try soaking your feet in warm water for 20-25 minutes. Then apply baby oil to the calluses. With the use of a pumice, gently rub off the hardened skin.
- Garlic: Garlic can also be used to remove the hardened skin. Cut a clove of garlic into pieces and mash together with salt. Then apply the mixture to a band-aid and keep it this way for three days. Once removed, the dry skin should come off too.
- Chamomile tea: Just before you go to bed, boil a cup of strong chamomile tea and dab it on your feet using a towel. Then enclose your feet in a plastic bag or wrap and add a sock to hold everything in place. Leave overnight. The tea will help in softening hard surfaces of your corns and it will be easy to rub off the dry skin with a pumice.
Surgery is only used in treating calluses when they are caused by bone structure. Surgery can be used to change or remove the bone structure. This is used only if other treatment has failed.
Generally, calluses and corns can be prevented by reducing the circumstances that lead to pressure or rubbing on one small areas of skin. Preventative measures include:
- Wear well-fitting, comfortable shoes.
- Pad the potentially friction inducing areas.
- Wear gloves to protect hands.
- Surgically correct bony abnormalities.
- Keep hands and feet moisturized.
Calluses are areas of thickened skin that form in response to repetitive stress and friction. The layers of skin in calluses do not contain nerve endings, so they don’t hurt. Calluses will generally reduce in size over time if the friction stops. If you have diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, peripheral neuropathy, or other conditions that cause circulatory problems or numbness, talk to your doctor before trying treatment for calluses or corns.