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What Are Bunions, Corns, and Calluses (and What Can I Do About Them)?

A person relaxing in a hammock with their bare feet in the sun
nicoletta zanella/Shutterstock

Wondering what that inexplicable change on your foot means? It could be a bunion, corn, or callus. Here’s what you need to know about these common foot ailments.

It’s easy to take the health of your feet for granted. But when something goes wrong, you need to take quick action, so your feet can continue doing their important work of supporting your body every day.

Knowing how to recognize and treat some common foot problems will help you fix these issues before they become serious. Keep this guide handy to keep your feet healthy!

What Are Bunions?

We might as well jump right in with the more serious of the common foot issues we’ll be talking about. If you notice a bony protrusion on your foot, you could have a bunion.

These typically appear as bumps on the inside of your foot, before your arch and behind your big toe. A bunion is actually a bone deformity, but not necessarily one you’re born with: they usually form over time.

Bunions begin when your big toe is forced inwards. This pushes the bones and tissues of your foot out of alignment and can result in new bony growth as your body tries to compensate.

Some bunions develop due to injuries, while others may come from a difference in how long your legs are. They can also be caused by your shoes or your physical activities, or other issues like arthritis. Some people have a genetic predisposition to bunions.

There’s a long list of things that can cause a bunion, but no matter what the cause, the results can be painful and uncomfortable if left untreated.

Bunion Treatment

First, you can minimize the effects of bunions and prevent them from getting worse by making some lifestyle changes.

Make sure to wear shoes that fit correctly, with wide enough soles to leave room for all of your toes. Avoid high heels, which can make bunions worse. If you’re overweight, weight loss will help reduce pressure on your feet.

To ease the pain, you can use over-the-counter painkillers and apply ice to your feet. Bunions can also be managed using some specialty items. Try shoe inserts that will put your feet in the right position, and overnight bunion splints that help move your toe back into its proper place.

These treatments will slow their progression, but they won’t make bunions go away. It’s important to talk to a doctor before trying these home remedies so that you can rule out other possible foot conditions. If home treatments don’t help, surgery can treat your bunions more effectively.

What Are Corns?

A corn is hardened skin that develops on your foot in areas of high pressure or friction. Your body wants to protect itself from this pressure, so it adds layers of skin to that exact spot in response.

Corns don’t always cause discomfort—the main reason people may want to get rid of them is that they don’t look good. However, if you press on a corn, you might find that it hurts. This means wearing shoes that put pressure on that spot will hurt, too.

These hardened areas usually have a harder spot in the middle, with red or inflamed skin surrounding it. Some have a hard texture all over, while others are softer. People get corns when their shoes don’t fit right, or when they do activities that put pressure on a specific part of the foot.

Corn Treatment

You can often safely remove corns at home if you find them uncomfortable or ugly.

Start by soaking the affected area in warm water for about 10 minutes, to soften the hard skin. Then, use a pumice stone to file away the excess layers of skin. Don’t be too rough and stop if the process is painful. Taking off too much skin can make you bleed and put you at risk for infection.

If your corns hurt, don’t try to file them down yourself. Instead, visit a podiatrist (foot specialist) to see about getting them removed.

Want to prevent corns from coming back after removal? Make sure your shoes fit well, without any areas of high pressure. Consider protecting the affected area by adding padding to your shoe to relieve the pressure. You can also apply bandages or corn pads over a corn to keep it from getting worse.

What Are Calluses?

Calluses and corns are often hard to tell apart. Like a corn, a callus is a layer of hard skin that your body created to protect a specific area.

You can get corns and calluses all over your body—they’re just more common on the feet since our feet have to withstand a lot of pressure throughout the day.

Like corns, calluses aren’t always uncomfortable, but they don’t look good. Calluses are often larger than corns and are less likely to be painful. They tend to have a whitish or yellowish cast and feel rough to the touch.

Both issues have the same causes, including shoes or activities that put pressure on a specific part of the foot. However, you’re more likely to see a callus on the weight-bearing areas of your feet, like the soles. Corns are more likely to appear on other parts of the feet, like the top or sides of the toes.

Loose shoes that rub your feet, or wearing shoes without socks, can also result in a callus (or a corn).

Callus Treatment

You can remove a callus precisely the same way you’d remove a corn, as described above. Again, if it’s painful, make sure to see a medical professional instead of attempting to file it down at home.

Making sure your shoes fit will reduce the risk of calluses, and shoe inserts to relieve pressure can help. However, some physical activities, like hiking, make you more likely to develop a callus even when you wear the right shoes and socks.

Salicylic acid is a common way podiatrists treat corns and calluses. It helps soften them for easier removal.

You can also apply salicylic acid to the affected area as part of your home treatment. However, when in doubt about any foot problem or how to treat it, make sure to visit a doctor as soon as you can. The health of your feet is well worth the trip.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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