Corns

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Corn fundamentals

Corns are a build-up of hard skin near a bony prominence of a toe or between the toes. Some people use the terms "corns" and "calluses" interchangeably.

Corns come in several forms. These include:

  • Hard corns, which are the most common type, are small, concentrated areas of hard skin, typically within a wider area of thickened skin or callous.
  • Soft corns are whitish or gray and are rubbery in texture. They often appear between the toes.
  • Seed corns are small and tend to occur on the bottom of the foot.

When corns become thick, they can be very painful. The formation of corns is generally lessened or eliminated by wearing properly fitted shoes which avoid pressure and compression of the toes. Patients are advised to avoid very high heeled, narrow shoes that push the toes forward, causing them to rub against the shoe, as well as against each other. Properly fitted shoes need to have enough toe area length, as well as a deep enough toe area in order to accommodate the patient’s foot, preventing rubbing between the shoe and the toe. People who suffer from corns are able to find some relief from use of cushion pads which help to dissipate friction and pressure over bony prominences, thus alleviating the pain of a corn. A pumice stone can be used to keep the corn thin, thus relieving pressure and pain.

Corns result when pressure from shoes rub against the toes or causes friction between the toes, causing a build up of hard tissue resulting in a painful corn. Corns may occur on the top, the side, or between the toes, depending upon where friction builds up and the body’s reaction to the friction resulting in the corn. Corns typically result in swelling, redness, and discomfort, particularly when wearing snug shoes. In diabetic patients, corns can quickly become ulcers, leading to much more serious problems.

How is this treated?

The formation of corns is generally decreased by wearing shoes which minimize pressure and compression of the toes. Patients are advised to avoid high heeled, narrow shoes that push the toes forward, causing them to rub against the shoe, as well as against each other. Properly fitted shoes need to have enough toe area length, as well as a deep enough toe area in order to accommodate the patient’s foot, preventing rubbing between the shoe and the toe. Other treatments include:

  • Applying astringents/powders to reduce sweat between toes.
  • Gently removed the thickened skin with a pumice stone.
  • Using foam wedges to relieve pressure between the toes.
  • Using customized shoe inserts that are professionally fitted.
  • Surgical intervention to realign the areas of bony prominence, so as to avoid further corn formation.

A corn should never be cut or removed a corn, this can lead to an injury to the toe. Instead, people are advised to soak your feet in lukewarm, soapy water, then use a pumice stone to gently remove the build up of tissue in order to relieve pressure. Over-the-counter remedies that have harsh chemicals can dissolve a corn, but these chemicals can also harm healthy tissue. Medicated creams and lotions may help soften the corns and help in gentle removal.

If conservative therapy has not been helpful in alleviating the pain of a corn, surgery may be recommended.

What are the risks of treatment?

Risks include nerve injury, infection, and stiffness of toes. At times, if all areas of the deformity are not addressed, then a corn can form in a different area of the foot.

How do I prepare for surgery?

Always ask your surgeon for complete pre-operative preparation instructions. Typically, these may include:

  • Complete any pre-operative tests or lab work prescribed by your doctor.
  • Arrange to have someone drive you home from the hospital.
  • Refrain from taking aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) one week prior to surgery.
  • Call the appropriate surgery center to verify your appointment time. If your surgery is being done at Cleveland Clinic, call:
    • Main Campus: 216.444.0281
    • Beachwood: 216.839.3500
    • Strongsville: 440.878.3400
    • Marymount: 216.518.3200
  • Refrain from eating or drinking anything after midnight before surgery.
What do I need to do the day of surgery?
  • If you currently take any medications, take them the day of your surgery with just a sip of water.
  • Refrain from taking diabetic pills or insulin.
  • Do not wear any jewelry, body piercings, makeup, nail polish, hairpins or contacts.
  • Leave valuables and money at home.
  • Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing.
What happens during surgery?

Your foot will be initialized in the preoperative area by someone from the surgical team. In the operating room, you will be met by a nursing team and the anesthesia team. You have several anesthetic options:

  • General: Completely asleep and breathing through a tube
  • Epidural/Spinal: Numb from the waist down, or
  • Local: Numbing medicine just above the surgical site

Epidural/Spinal and Local are usually combined with sedative medication so you can rest comfortably during the procedure. Once you are anesthetized, the surgery is initiated.

What happens after surgery?

It is not unusual to experience numbness, tingling, and burning sensations in your foot. You should elevate your foot above your heart for 48 hours after the procedure, in order to relieve pain and these sensations. If this does not resolve the problem, your cast or surgical dressing may be too tight, and you may need to call your doctor. Avoid prolonged sitting or standing, and refrain from putting weight on the operative site unless given permission by your doctor.

Your doctor will give you pain medication, which may cause nausea or constipation. Eat lightly on the day of surgery.

If you are wearing a cast, do not put anything in the cast and keep the cast clean and dry. If you are itching beneath the cast, take Benadryl and blow cool air down the cast with a hair dryer.

Ask your surgeon for complete post-operative instructions.

How long is the recovery period after surgery?

Based upon the extent of your surgery, it will take approximately 6 weeks to 3 months to recover.

How can I manage at home during recovery from the procedure?

After the first 48 hours of foot elevation, you can usually gradually return to most activities. However, the use of crutches or a walker will be required. At some point, your physician will allow you to wean off the crutches/walker to more "normal" activities. Typically, the dressing placed at the time of surgery is left intact until your first postoperative visit. The surgical dressing cannot get wet. Therefore, baths are encouraged. If one chooses to shower, then an "over-the-cast" bag is necessary.


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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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