Status: 30.05.2024 15:51 | from Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg logo

A corn (clavus) on the foot can be extremely painful. How can you remove it? Which home remedies help? And when is it better to see a doctor?

by Carola Welt

Generally speaking, a corn is harmless. It can disappear on its own if the pressure on the corn is reduced – for example, by wearing different shoes. A corn can be treated yourself. But it can also stay, keep coming back and, in the worst case, become infected. Then it must be removed by a doctor.

Corns: The most important facts

A corn is not contagious.

What is a corn?

A corn (clavus) is a painful lump on the foot. It consists of hardened calluses. The cause is too much friction or pressure, often from shoes that are too tight or too high. Dry and cracked skin also causes increased callus formation and thus corns.

And this is what happens: To protect itself from the strain, the skin thickens at that spot. A callus develops. If the pressure does not subside, a horn cone forms that grows inwards. Like a thorn, it penetrates into the deeper layers of the skin. If it hits nerve strands there, it causes pain.

Where do corns form?

Corns usually develop on the foot, especially on the toes, between the toes or on the sole of the foot. They mainly affect areas where the skin lies directly over the bone and there is no protective padding. Corns often form as a result of joint diseases or foot deformities (for example: Hallux valgus). If the toes are misaligned, for example hammer toes, they rub against each other or press against shoes. Corns are more likely to develop.

In rare cases, a corn can also grow on the hands and fingers, for example due to the constant use of a tool or instrument that rubs against the skin.

Symptoms: What does a corn look like?

Corn on little toe © imago/ imagebroker Photo: begsteiger
A corn on the back of the toe is rather hard and painful when pressure is applied.

A corn (clavus) appears as a round, raised area with a diameter of five to ten millimeters. It can be beige or yellowish in color. A glassy core in the middle is typical. It is reminiscent of a chicken’s eye, hence the name.

If the corn is on the back of the toes or the soles of the feet, it is rather hard. If it is between the toes, it can be soft and look white due to moisture. A corn often hurts when you press on it. The middle is particularly sensitive to pain.

Corn or wart: How do I tell the difference?

A corn (clavus) is round, smooth and usually has a hard center that stings when touched or pressed. Warts (verrucae) can be round, but can also have an irregular shape. Their surface is often rough. Warts usually do not hurt, unless they are plantar warts. Corns are often confused with these. Plantar warts, however, do not have a light center, but a dark one. If you are unsure whether you have a wart or a corn, you should go to a dermatologist. They will usually quickly identify what it is. A skin sample and laboratory examination are rarely necessary.

Treating corns with home remedies

Small corns on the foot, on the toes, between the toes or on the sole of the foot can be treated by yourself. The most important thing is to first remove the pressure on the corn by wearing different shoes or orthopedic insoles. You can also stick ring-shaped pads like a plaster over the corn to protect the area from friction and pressure. This relief allows the corn to slowly disappear on its own.

The process can be supported by softening the corn. A warm foot bath lasting 20 minutes a day is recommended. You can add a few drops of tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar or camomile tea to the water. All three additives have an anti-inflammatory effect. You can also add a teaspoon of vinegar, which has a slightly softening effect. The callus can then be carefully removed with a pumice stone or callus file. The treatment must be carried out for several weeks.

Pumice stone for removing corns leans against white towels. © IMAGO/Design Pics Photo: Christopher Nuzzaco
After a foot bath, a pumice stone helps to remove the softened horny layer.

Applying headache tablets to treat corns? Sounds absurd at first. However, aspirin contains salicylic acid. This is also found in most corn plasters because it softens the callus. It is recommended to crush up to five aspirin tablets, mix them with a little water to form a paste and apply it to the corn. When treating, it is important to ensure that the healthy skin around the corn remains free of the paste. A foot bath should always be taken afterwards.

Remove corns with plaster and tincture

There are also plasters and special creams that help to loosen the hard horny layer of the corn. Corn plasters and corn creams contain either urea or salicylic acid. These so-called keratolytics do not require a prescription.

Tip for treatment: Only apply the corn plaster or cream after a foot bath. You should also make sure that healthy skin does not come into contact with the callus-removing substances. The plaster should remain on the corn for as long as recommended in the package insert – usually two to four days. Afterwards, it is advisable to take another warm foot bath. Once the corn has softened, you can try to carefully remove the top layer of the corn with a pumice stone. Knives, planes or razor blades should not be used due to the risk of injury. The treatment usually has to be repeated several times.

Remove horn cones

You cannot squeeze a corn. Doctors advise against simply peeling out the hard corn in the middle of the corn with sharp or pointed objects. The reasons for this are the risk of injury and possible wound infection. A corn can only be removed slowly, layer by layer, over the course of several weeks. Only at the end of the treatment should the remaining corn be carefully lifted out after soaking.

When should you see a doctor?

If a corn is large, has a very painful core or keeps coming back, you should see a dermatologist. This also applies if the skin around the corn is inflamed. People who have problems with wound healing – for example due to diabetes – should not treat themselves, but have the corn professionally removed by a doctor. The same applies to older people who have difficulty bending down to their feet. Podiatrists can also remove corns.

How can corns be prevented?

To prevent them from developing, you should wear comfortable shoes that also offer enough space for your toes. Change your shoes regularly so that they don’t press on the same spots every day. If you have misalignments, orthopedic insoles protect against friction. If you already have pressure points on your feet, you should pad them with special plasters.

Foot care is very important. It is recommended to apply cream to the feet every day, as corns are more likely to form when the feet are dry. Excess calluses and corns should be gently removed regularly to prevent corns from developing. If you cannot manage this on your own, you can get support from a podiatrist for medical foot care.

Further information

Woman removes calluses from her feet with a callus file. © imago images/Westend61

Most people have calluses on their feet. Sometimes they can be painful. What is the best way to remove calluses? more

A pedicurist treats a customer's feet. © Dron/fotolia Photo: Dron

Nail fungus is not painful, but it is long-lasting. If left untreated, the fungal infection can destroy the entire nail plate. more

Schematic representation of a foot with athlete's foot infection between the toes © NDR

Around one in three Germans will contract athlete’s foot at some point. Those affected can fight the skin disease sustainably. more

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