It’s harder to damage thick objects than thin ones. Just a little pressure can usually break or tear a thin bit of wood, cloth, or paper. Thicker substances, however, are solid and take significantly more force to damage. The same is true of your skin. Thick skin is stronger than thin skin—which is exactly why calluses and corns form under pressure.
Growing Thick Skin
Your body naturally grows thicker skin in places that are vulnerable to friction. When a particular place on your body is exposed to pressure and rubbing over an extended period of time, it irritates the surface and stimulates the body to protect itself. You naturally build up extra layers of dead, hardened skin to act as a protective patch between yourself and whatever is rubbing against you.
This is what makes up corns and calluses. Although they form the same way and for the same reasons, these two skin lesions are actually different. Corns are small, raised bumps, usually shaped like small cones. They can have hard or soft cores, and they generally form in non-weight bearing areas, like the tops of the toes and the sides of the feet. They can be very uncomfortable to press against.
Calluses are large, flat patches that form under weight-bearing places, like your soles. These may or may not be painful, depending on how thick they are. Sometimes the skin around these patches can be sensitive and uncomfortable. Usually the lesions are rough and gray or brown. Because they are made of hard, dry skin, they are also prone to cracking or splitting, especially when they’re on or around your heels.
Softening the Rough Patches
If they aren’t painful, sometimes these patches can be left alone. If they are uncomfortable, however, or if you have a condition like diabetes that increases your risk for foot ulcers, corns and calluses will need to be addressed. Fortunately, these can usually be softened and eliminated using entirely conservative methods. Removing the friction from your skin stops the dead layers from building up.
Poorly-fitting shoes are the most common culprit for this problem. Changing your footwear so it fits better and doesn’t squeeze your feet is one of the most effective treatments. Fitted, moisture-wicking socks might make a difference as well, especially for athletes and people on their feet a lot. Adding moleskin pads or other shoe inserts between your footwear and your skin is another option. If you have a biomechanical problem that contributed to your skin problems, you may need orthotics to correct the issue and protect your feet. In some cases you may be able to use a pumice stone to grind away callus build-up.
If your feet aren’t responding to these conservative methods, you might need more in-depth care. Dr. Robert Parker may give you medication to soften and remove the excess dead skin. Our team may carefully trim down the corn or callus. In rare cases, you might need surgery to cut out the whole patch.
Avoiding the Skin Build-Up
Preventing the problem in the first place is actually better for your feet in the long run, especially if you have diabetes or some other condition that puts you at high risk for foot ulcers. Wear well-fitted shoes with cushioning in the soles. Avoid styles that put abnormal pressure on the ball of the foot or pinch the heel, like pumps. Wear padding or use orthotics if you need them. Consider pre-bandaging areas that seem prone to friction and pressure.
Thick skin isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you have painful corns and calluses, you shouldn’t ignore them. Let Dr. Robert Parker at Parker Foot & Ankle help soften your skin and alleviate your discomfort. Just call our Houston office at (281) 497-2850 to make an appointment with our office. You can also use our online request form to reach us.