What Is the Difference Between a Corn and a Callus?

Dr. Courtney Conley (DC, BS’s in Kinesiology & Human Biology)

Definition of Corns and Calluses

Corns and calluses are common skin conditions that often affect the feet. They are areas of hard, thickened skin that develop as a natural response to friction, pressure, or irritation on the feet. While both corns and calluses may seem similar at first glance, they have distinct characteristics and require different approaches for treatment and prevention.

Common Occurrence on the Feet and the Need to Distinguish Between the Two

Corns and calluses are frequently encountered on the feet because the feet bear the weight of our bodies and are exposed to continuous pressure during various activities such as walking, running, and standing. As these skin conditions can cause discomfort and even pain, it becomes essential to distinguish between them accurately. 

Importance of Understanding the Differences for Effective Management and Prevention

Understanding the dissimilarities between corns and calluses empowers individuals to take proactive steps in managing and preventing these skin conditions. By identifying the specific type of thickened skin, one can adopt suitable treatments and preventive measures tailored to each condition's unique characteristics. 

Additionally, early intervention and proper foot care can significantly reduce the discomfort associated with corns and calluses, promoting overall foot health and enhancing the quality of life. In this article, we will delve into the details of corns and calluses, providing valuable insights on how to differentiate between them and offering effective strategies for treatment and prevention.

Understanding Corns and Calluses: A Comparative Analysis

Appearance and Characteristics of Corns

Corns are small, round areas of hardened skin that typically have a raised center, which may appear like a small bump or cone. They often have a distinct circular or oval shape, with a hardened, yellowish or grayish appearance. Corns are generally more localized and have a defined border, making them easily distinguishable from the surrounding healthy skin.

For those of you wearing toe spacers, or beginning to break them in, it is not uncommon to develop a corn on the inside of the toes.  This is due to increased friction and a lack of toe splay.  They can be painful.  We recommend toe socks or body glide to reduce the friction of the toe spacer until proper toe splay is gained. 

Common Locations on the Feet: Corns commonly develop on areas of the feet that experience excessive pressure or friction. They are frequently found on the tops and sides of toes, particularly over bony prominences, and sometimes between the toes.


free quiz banner

Appearance and Characteristics of Calluses

Calluses, on the other hand, are larger, flattened areas of thickened skin that usually have a more diffuse and less defined shape compared to corns. They are often broader and cover a larger surface area. Calluses are typically less painful than corns, and their texture is smoother and less sensitive to touch.

Predominant Locations on the Feet

Calluses tend to form on weight-bearing areas of the feet, such as the heels, balls of the feet, and the soles. They are a natural defense mechanism of the skin against repetitive pressure or friction on these specific regions.

While both corns and calluses are the result of the body's protective response to pressure and friction, understanding the differences in their appearance and characteristics can help individuals identify the specific skin condition they are dealing with. This knowledge serves as the foundation for implementing appropriate treatment and preventive measures for effective management and long-term foot health.

Identifying Corns and Calluses

To accurately differentiate between corns and calluses, it's essential to understand their distinguishing features in terms of appearance and feel. Here's a side-by-side comparison to help you recognize whether a skin condition is a corn or a callus.

Appearance and Feel

Corns:

  • Shape: Corns typically have a small, circular or oval shape with a raised center, resembling a tiny bump or cone.
  • Texture: The skin on corns is usually thick, hardened, and rough to the touch.
  • Color: Corns often appear yellowish or grayish in color.

Calluses:

  • Shape: Calluses are generally larger and have a flattened, more diffuse shape, covering a broader surface area of the skin.
  • Texture: The texture of calluses is smoother and less rough compared to corns.
  • Color: Calluses may have a slightly yellowish or light brownish coloration.

Tips for Recognizing Corns and Calluses

  • Pay attention to the location: Corns are commonly found on the tops and sides of toes, particularly over bony prominences, as well as between the toes. Calluses, on the other hand, tend to form on weight-bearing areas, such as the heels, balls of the feet, and the soles.
  • Observe the shape and size: Corns are usually smaller and more localized, while calluses cover a larger surface area and have a more general shape.
  • Consider the level of discomfort: Corns are often more painful than calluses due to the pressure on the raised center. Calluses, while thickened, are typically less sensitive to touch.
  • Check for defined borders: Corns usually have distinct borders, making them easier to distinguish from the surrounding healthy skin. Calluses may have less defined edges.

difference between a corn and a callus

By examining these characteristics, you can better identify whether you are dealing with a corn or a callus. This knowledge is crucial for selecting the appropriate treatment approach and preventive measures to manage these common foot conditions effectively.

Treating Corns and Calluses

Managing corns and calluses involves various approaches, from over-the-counter remedies to seeking professional medical help. Here are some effective treatment strategies:

It is important to note that calluses are there for a reason. If you are training for a running race for example,  we do not recommend removing the callus prior to the race.  

Over-the-Counter Remedies

  • Corn Pads: Corn pads, also known as corn cushions or plasters, are adhesive pads specifically designed to protect corns from friction and pressure. These pads contain a soft cushioning material that helps relieve discomfort and prevent further irritation.
  • Medicated Patches: Medicated patches, available at pharmacies, often contain salicylic acid or similar compounds that aid in softening and loosening the thickened skin of corns and calluses. These patches can make it easier to remove the excess dead skin gently.

????Fun fact:  Duct tape over the corn (small square) may also help remove the corn.  It starves the tissue of oxygen and you can often remove the center of the corn following several days of the tape.

Soaking and Exfoliation

  • Soaking the Feet: Soaking the feet in warm, soapy water for about 10-15 minutes can help soften the corns and calluses. This process reduces their hardness, making it easier to exfoliate the affected areas.
  • Exfoliating the Skin: After soaking, gently use a pumice stone or foot file to exfoliate the thickened skin. Be cautious not to over-exfoliate or remove too much skin, as it may cause irritation or injury.

Footwear Modifications

  • Wear Well-Fitting Shoes: Opt for shoes that fit properly and provide adequate room for your toes. Shoes that are too tight can cause friction and pressure, exacerbating corns and calluses. If you have concerns or specific requirements, consulting with a clinician, podiatrist or footwear specialist can help you find the most suitable shoes for your needs. You can find our recommendations for footwear here.

Seeking Professional Medical Help

  • Persistent Pain and Discomfort: If corns or calluses continue to cause pain, discomfort, or interfere with daily activities, it's advisable to seek professional help. Podiatrists or foot specialists can provide tailored treatment options.  If you are local to Colorado, please visit Total Health Solutions or Kinetic Chiropractic for treatment or if you would like to see a Gait Happens Clinician online, you can book an appointment here.
  • Diabetic Patients: Diabetic individuals should avoid self-treating corns and calluses, as their condition requires specialized care to prevent complications. A healthcare professional experienced in diabetic foot care should manage any foot concerns.


specialized care

Remember, it's essential to avoid cutting or shaving corns and calluses at home, as this may lead to infection or injury. Instead, opt for these safer treatment methods and consider seeking professional assistance for severe cases or underlying health conditions. By taking appropriate measures, you can effectively manage corns and calluses and promote foot health.

Preventing Corns and Calluses

While treating existing corns and calluses is essential, taking preventive measures is equally crucial to avoid their recurrence. Here are some preventive strategies to promote healthy and comfortable feet:

Appropriate Footwear

  • Proper Fit: Choose shoes that fit well and provide ample space for your toes. Shoes that are too tight can cause friction and pressure, increasing the risk of corns and calluses.
  • Low Heels and Wide Toe Boxes: Opt for footwear with low heels and wide toe boxes to reduce pressure on the toes and forefoot. High-heeled shoes can place excessive stress on certain areas of the feet, contributing to the development of corns and calluses.

Foot Care

  • Regular Moisturization: Keeping the feet adequately moisturized can help maintain their skin's softness and suppleness. Use a gentle moisturizer daily, especially after bathing or soaking the feet.
  • Hydration: Staying well-hydrated is vital for overall skin health, including the skin of your feet. Drinking plenty of water can help improve skin elasticity and reduce the risk of dry, thickened skin.

Foot Pads and Inserts

Protective Foot Pads: Consider using protective foot pads or cushions to shield vulnerable areas of the feet from friction and pressure. These pads act as a barrier between the skin and shoes, preventing the development of corns and calluses.

By implementing these preventive measures, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing corns and calluses. Additionally, maintaining good foot hygiene and choosing appropriate footwear can contribute to overall foot health and comfort. If you have specific foot concerns or conditions, consult a clinician for personalized recommendations and guidance on preventing corns and calluses.

Conclusion

Corns and calluses are common skin conditions that often affect the feet, resulting from the thickening of the skin due to friction and pressure. Understanding the differences between these two conditions is essential for effective management and prevention.

In summary, corns are small, raised areas with a central core, typically found on the toes or top of the foot. Calluses, on the other hand, are larger, flat areas of thickened skin that often develop on the soles of the feet. By recognizing their distinct characteristics, individuals can take appropriate steps to address and alleviate these conditions.

management of corns and calluses

Proper management of corns and calluses involves various methods, such as over-the-counter remedies like corn pads and medicated patches. Soaking and exfoliation can also help soften the skin, making it easier to remove dead cells and reduce the thickness of the affected areas. Additionally, wearing well-fitting shoes with enough space for your feet can minimize friction and pressure, reducing the risk of corns and calluses.

Prioritizing foot health and adopting preventive measures can help individuals maintain comfortable and healthy feet. If corns and calluses persist or cause significant discomfort, seeking professional medical advice from a podiatrist or foot specialist is recommended for personalized treatment and guidance.

By being proactive and attentive to foot care, individuals can minimize the impact of corns and calluses on their daily lives and enjoy the benefits of healthy, pain-free feet.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are corns and calluses, and how do they differ?

Corns and calluses are common skin conditions characterized by the thickening of the skin on the feet. The main difference lies in their appearance and location. Corns are smaller, with a raised center and often found on the toes or top of the foot. In contrast, calluses are larger, flatter, and typically form on the soles of the feet.

Are corns and calluses the same thing?

No, corns and calluses are not the same. Although both involve hard, thickened skin, they have distinct characteristics. Corns have a raised center, making them more tender, whereas calluses are generally larger and less painful.

Why is it important to distinguish between corns and calluses?

Distinguishing between corns and calluses is essential for proper treatment and prevention. Understanding their differences helps in managing these conditions effectively, reducing discomfort, and preventing potential complications.

How can I identify whether I have a corn or a callus?

Identifying corns and calluses is relatively simple. Corns are smaller, have a central core, and may be more tender to touch. Calluses, on the other hand, cover a larger area and have a flatter appearance.

Do corns or calluses cause more discomfort?

Corns can be more painful due to their smaller size and the presence of a core, which puts pressure on sensitive nerve endings. Calluses, while still thickened and hardened, may cause less discomfort overall.

Can I treat corns and calluses at home, or should I seek professional help?

Mild cases of corns and calluses can often be managed at home using over-the-counter remedies, proper foot care, and appropriate footwear. However, if the condition is causing significant pain or if you have certain health conditions, seeking professional help is advisable.

What preventive measures can I take to avoid corns and calluses?

Preventive measures can help reduce the likelihood of developing corns and calluses. Wearing well-fitting shoes and maintaining good foot hygiene can help prevent excessive friction and pressure on the feet.

Can corns and calluses be permanently removed?

While corns and calluses can be effectively managed and treated, complete permanent removal is not always possible. Proper management, regular foot care, and preventive measures can help minimize their recurrence and promote foot health.

Please note that the answers provided here are for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical advice. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan based on your specific condition.

Subscribe to the Gait Happens Newsletter

Stay in the loop for all the latest Gait Happens news, research and updates

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
*No spam, only Gait goodness!
Join Waitlist We will inform you when the product arrives in stock. Please leave your valid email address below.
Skip to content