Calluses are hard, thickened layers of the skin that are formed to protect sensitive areas from pressure and friction. They are most commonly seen on the hands, fingers, feet and toes. Because they are unsightly and may cause discomfort, many people seek treatment for calluses.
In healthy individuals, a callus is usually not a cause for alarm. However, people who have diabetes or other medical conditions that are associated with poor circulation need to be aware that calluses on the feet present a risk of complications. If you have one of these conditions you should see your healthcare for advice on callus treatment.
Callus Causes and Symptoms
1. Causes of Callus
Calluses are caused by repetitive rubbing or friction on the skin. The leading causes of calluses include:
- Footwear - When shoes are too tight, they can cause pressure that leads to a callus. Loose shoes that rub can also cause calluses, as do high heels that place pressure on the ball of the foot. Some people also get calluses when wearing sandals or shoes without socks.
- Walking Barefoot - Walking on pavement without shoes can cause calluses to develop on the soles of the feet.
- Tools - Repetitive use of tools, such as gardening or carpenter tools can cause calluses to form on the hands, thumbs or fingers.
- Sports Equipment - Tennis racquets, baseball bats and other sports equipment that is handle can also causes to calluses on the hands, thumbs and fingers.
There are certain risk factors associated with callus formation. Deformities of the foot can cause increased rubbing of the foot and lead to calluses. These deformities include hammertoe, which is abnormal curling of the toe, and bunions, which are abnormal bony bumps at the base of the big toe. Bone spurs can also lead to improper rubbing and the formation of calluses.
2. Symptoms of Callus
These are some of the signs and symptoms of a callus:
- An area of the skin that is hard, dry and thick
- Yellowish or grayish appearance
- Lack of sensitivity to touch in affected area
- Tenderness when pressure is applied
Calluses should not be confused with corns, which are smaller and have a hard center. Corns tend to develop on parts of the feet that don't bear weight, such as on the sides and tops of the toes. Other conditions that form thickened skin, such as cysts and warts, can be mistaken for a callus. If you have doubts about the cause of a hard, thickened area of skin, consult your doctor.
Treatment for a callus will require you to avoid the repetitive action that caused the callus in the first place. If the callus is on your foot, you may need to wear different shoes or protective foot pads.
If a callus persists after you've taken measures to avoid pressure and friction, there are a number of callus treatments available.
1. Medical Treatment
- Trimming - The thickened skin of a callus can be pared down with a scalpel by your doctor. This simple procedure can be carried out during an office visit. Due to the risk of infection, it is not recommended that you attempt to trim a callus yourself.
- Antibiotic Medication - Under doctor's orders, you may be required to apply antibiotic ointment to avoid infection.
- Salicylic Acid and Pumice Stone - Your doctor may prescribe application of a non-prescription patch containing a 40 percent solution of salicylic acid to soften the callus. These patches are available from the Dr. Scholl's and Curad brands. After the callus is softened, rub it gently with a pumice stone. If your callous is large, your doctor may give you a prescription for a stronger salicylic acid solution.
- Shoe Inserts (Orthotics) - For a foot callus caused by a bunion, hammertoe or other deformity, your doctor may prescribe a custom orthotic that will be inserted in your shoe to reduce rubbing and pressure.
- Surgery - In some rare cases, a doctor will recommend surgery to correct foot deformities that are causing calluses.
2. Home Remedies
If don't have diabetes or another underlying condition that causes poor circulation, you can try one of these home remedies to treat calluses.
- Cushioning Pads - You can apply moleskin (also used to treat blisters) to smaller foot calluses to lessen rubbing. Cut a circle out of moleskin that is larger than your callus and then cut a circle from the center that is the size of the callus. Apply this doughnut shaped pad to your callus, centering the doughnut hole on the center of your callus. For larger calluses, use a larger pad that is applied next to the callus to transfer weight away from the callus and relieve pressure. If calluses form on or between your toes, try lamb's wool between your toes or toe separators.
- Thinning - A rough washcloth or pumice stone can be rubbed on a callus to thin the skin. Avoid using sharp objects to trim a callus due to the risk of infection. Be careful about removing too much skin since this can also cause infection.
- Soaking - Warm, soapy water can be used to soften calluses. Soak the hands or feet before attempting to thin a callus with pumice stone or washcloth.
- Moisturizing - Liberally applying moisturizer to hands and feet will keep skin soft and reduce calluses.
- Proper Shoes and Socks - When a callus is caused by footwear, switch to cushioned shoes that fit well until the callus disappears. Wear socks that are made from a polyester-cotton blend since this material has better wicking qualities than cotton.
Can Callus Be Prevented?
You can avoid callus treatment by preventing calluses from forming in the first place. When it comes to footwear, choose shoes and sandals that don't squeeze or pinch your feet and provide enough room to wiggle your toes. If the shape of your feet causes most types of shoes to rub, use cushioning pads or bandages.
Having an occupation that requires you to use hand tools or sports equipment increases your risk of forming calluses. You can protect your hands from excessive friction by wearing padded gloves or padding your tool handles with cloth tape.