What is a Callus and what causes it? Everything you need to know
Calluses are rough patches of skin most commonly caused by friction or pressure due to ill-fitting footwear or unaccustomed exercise. They can develop on any part of your body subjected to repeated rubbing and pressure, most commonly, feet, fingertips, and the palms of the hands. Calluses, like corns, are the results of a defence mechanism from the affected area to protect the skin underneath them. They are not serious, but can cause discomfort. As opposed to corns, calluses are rarely painful. Usually, you will be able to treat your calluses at home but this can take a long time and requires a certain amount of patience to completely get rid of them.
Who suffers from calluses?
Calluses alongside with corns are one of the most common foot ailments. Foot calluses are generally caused by ill-fitting shoes, by not wearing socks in shoes or walking barefoot which leads to increased friction and hardening of the skin. The most common place for a callus to develop is the bottom of the forefoot or heel, due to an uneven distribution of weight. In some instances, although rare, a skin abnormality is causing the build-up of callus tissue.
If you have a foot abnormality such as flat foot, abnormal gait, a foot deformity (bunion, etc), or if your skin lacks elasticity, or you have a job/occupation that requires you to stand or walk a lot, you are probably more at risk to develop calluses. Women are also more prone to calluses in part because they, more frequently than men, tend to wear less comfortable footwear, such as high heels. Calluses do not exclusively develop on the feet. Musicians such as guitarists or violinists tend to develop calluses on their fingertips or chins because of the rubbing induced by their instrument. The same goes if you are a professional landscaper or using hand tools for prolonged periods of time or if you lift weights.
Do I have calluses?
Callus symptoms include:
- a flaky or waxy appearance
- skin thickening leading to bumpiness
- slight tenderness (but not pain) when pressed
Since corns and calluses are very similar and closely related, it can be tricky to differentiate between both conditions but here are several tips to help you decide if what you see and feel is a callus or a corn:
- Calluses are usually spread over a larger surface than corns who tends to be on the smaller side.
- Calluses come in a great variety of shapes whereas corns are usually round and well defined.
- Calluses are not usually painful, whereas corns can be painful upon pressure.
- Corns have a distinct, hard centre, sometimes surrounded by inflamed skin.
Calluses normally develop on the soles of the feet, on the palms of the hands, and on the knees. Corns often occur in non-weight-bearing parts of the skin.
How do calluses form?
The outer layer of your skin is mainly composed of cells called keratinocytes. These are special skin cells that produce keratin, a substance that forms a tough structure. This structure helps protect your body against environmental influences, such as heat, UV radiation or infections. Calluses are the result of an increased production of keratin, medically called hyperkeratosis, which is your body’s attempt to protect itself from friction or pressure.
Why do I have calluses?
Calluses occur because of the way we stand and walk. The standard walking motion involves a transfer of your body weight from the heel to the ball of the forefoot. These two body areas are where the skin is at its thickest in order to withstand the pressure. To fight back against an excessive pressure in those areas the skin will thicken in the form of callus (or corn). Callus formation can be described as the response of your body to the friction of skin rubbing against a bone, shoe or the ground.
As described above Callus (or callosity) is an extended area of thickened, hard skin on the soles of your feet or the palm of your hand. A callus may be the symptom of underlying problems such as bone abnormalities, improper gait or inappropriate footwear. Your skin type may also be a risk factor for developing calluses as people with dry, thus less supple skin, are more prone to callus build-up. Age may also be a risk factor since skin fat tends to decrease overtime rendering your skin less flexible. Therefore, elderly people are more likely to form calluses on the ball of the foot.
The most common causes of calluses are high-heeled shoes and ill-fitted footwear. Indeed, wearing shoes that are too high, too high-arched, hard soled or leather soled, can greatly affect weight distribution on your feet and thus create troublesome areas more likely to develop calluses in reaction to this unwanted pressure. If this is the case for you, you should try to limit wearing those shoes as much as possible.
Also, unaccustomed exercise or prolonged periods of standing might induce callus formation, as well as, wearing no socks or no footwear at all. Therefore, if possible try to avoid those situations.
However, wearing well-fitted shoes doesn’t necessarily mean that you will stay exempt of calluses. Your occupation may be a risk factor. Professions with a high risk of developing calluses include but are not limited to a person delivering mail, a nurse, a waiter/waitress or a flight attendant.
What to do when I have calluses?
Calluses are not often serious, but can cause discomfort and are not aesthetically pleasing. They can be treated at home with a little bit of patience. The first thing you should do is to soften the skin in order to make removal easier. This can be achieved by soaking the involved area in warm, soapy water. You can also achieve this by using Epsom salts, exfoliating creams or even baking soda. COMPEED® Callus plasters are specifically designed to create a moist protective environment for a prolonged period while providing cushioning and relieving discomfort or pain if you were experiencing any. Once your callus is soft and tender you can choose to pare it down by using a pumice stone or a foot file. Keep in mind that you may need to exfoliate for several days in a row to get satisfying results. Don’t rush or be too harsh while filing the callus and refrain from using sharp objects such as razor blades to remove or reduce a callus. You might injure your skin and thus create an entry point for infection.
All types of treatment should be accompanied by preventive measures in order to relieve pressure points and prevent calluses from reoccurring. These measures include but are not limited to the use of protective pads or insoles. Using thick socks may also help. Orthotics custom-made padded shoe inserts may help you if you have an underlying foot deformity. For hand calluses, use padded gloves when using tools.
When should I seek medical advice?
Although calluses are typically not serious, you should seek medical advice if the callus becomes inflamed or painful. If you have insensitive skin due to poor circulation, diabetes or nerve damage, you should also consult a doctor before treating your calluses.
If you are concerned about the frequency of reoccurring calluses, you might want to visit a doctor or podiatrist in order to rule out or detect foot abnormalities such as deformities, structural abnormalities of the bones, poor bone alignment or an abnormal gait. In these cases a specific padding or corrective shoe insert might help you to prevent corns from reappearing, or in rare cases, surgery might be necessary.
If you want to find out more about how to treat your calluses, keep on reading here.