In this Article

What are Calluses?

Calluses [CAL-us-es] are places on your body where the skin has been rubbed a lot. When this happens, your body makes thick, hard layers of skin in these places in an effort to protect the skin from the pressure or friction of the rubbing. The most common places to get calluses are the hands, fingers, toes, or feet, since these parts of the body are most likely to get rubbed.

Sometimes calluses are called corns. But corns and calluses are not the same thing. Corns are a lot like calluses, but they are smaller than calluses, and usually have a hard center that is surrounded by inflamed skin. Like calluses, corns can appear in areas that bear weight, or where there is pressure or friction. However, corns will also appear on places of the body that don’t bear weight, like in between the toes, or the top of the foot. Corns may also be painful, while calluses usually don’t hurt, even when you press on them.

You might not like how calluses look, and they might be embarrassing to you. However, if you are healthy, you usually don’t need any special treatment for calluses.  Most of the time, people will just stop or change whatever is causing the friction that is creating the callus, and it will go away over time.

If you have a medical condition that makes it harder to heal, you may have more complications from calluses. Make sure you talk to your doctor if that is the case so they can help you make a plan for treatment. 

When to See a Doctor

If you notice the symptoms of a callus and you also feel pain or notice inflammation, you should see your doctor.  Some conditions, like diabetes and poor blood flow, can make calluses a more serious condition.  In these cases, you should talk to your doctor to make sure you get the right treatment.

Sometimes, people will try to treat or remove a callus on their own. This can be risky because the callus can become an infected sore if you make a mistake.

Causes

Calluses are caused by pressure or friction, usually from repeated rubbing that can happen as a result of:

  • Poorly fitting shoes that slide on the foot and create friction
  • Not wearing your socks correctly, so that the seam of the sock rubs on your foot
  • Playing instruments like the guitar or other string instruments can cause calluses on the fingers and hand
  • Using hand tools
  • Writing
  • Some sports or other activities, such as rock climbing
  • Certain other medical conditions, such as bunions or hammertoes 

Diagnosis and Tests

Your doctor will perform a physical exam to make sure there is no underlying condition that might be causing the hardened skin, like a wart or cyst.

If your doctor thinks that a physical abnormality might be causing the condition, they may request an x-ray to help rule out or diagnose other conditions. 

Treatments

Most of the time, the best treatment for corns or calluses is to avoid or change the repetitive activity that has caused the condition, for example through wearing better-fitting shoes, or wearing gloves. A few other at-home treatments include:

  • Soaking.  Soaking the calluses in warm water can soften them so you can thin the thickened skin.
  • Thinning.  You can thin the callused skin with a washcloth, pumice stone, or emery board, any of which can be purchased in the beauty section of most general stores. Do not use anything sharp to thin the skin as this can create a wound and lead to pain or infection. Also, do not use the pumice stone if you have diabetes.
  • Use lotion or other moisturizers, like coconut oil, on the calluses.

If your self-treatment efforts don’t work, or if the callus becomes painful, you should talk to your doctor about:

  • Helping you remove the extra skin – do not try this on your own. If you make a mistake, it can lead to an infection.
  • Medicine that can help you get rid of the callus.
  • Shoe pads or other inserts that can help cushion your foot and stop the foot from rubbing so much.
Surgery, which usually only happens if the callus is caused by some other underlying condition, such as bunions, hammertoes, or other conditions that may change the alignment of your foot. 

Prevention

Calluses can be prevented by wearing properly-fitting shoes, or wearing gloves when using hand tools. You can also try over-the-counter pads to cushion areas that often rub. 

Symptoms

You may have a callus or a corn if you find or feel any of the following on the skin:

  • A hard, raised bump
  • Tenderness or pain under the skin
  • A thick, rough patch of skin
  • Flaky, dry skin
  • A patch of skin that looks like dried wax
Although similar, corns and calluses are not the same thing.  Corns are more likely to hurt, and can show up in places where there isn’t any friction on the skin.