What are corns and calluses?

Corns and calluses are a buildup of hard, thick areas of skin. Although these hardened areas of skin can form anywhere on your body, you’ll usually see them on your feet, hands or fingers.

Corns

Corns tend to be small and round. You are most likely to see corns on the tops or sides of your toes. There are several types of corns:

  • Hard corns: These are small, hard dense areas of skin usually within a larger area of thickened skin. Hard corns usually form on the top of toes – areas where there is bone pressure against the skin.
  • Soft corns: These corns are whitish/gray and have a softer, rubbery texture. Soft corns appear between the toes.
  • Seed corns: These corns are small and usually form on the bottom of feet.

Corns, typically small and round, form on top (hard corns), sides (soft corns) and bottom (seed corns) of your toes and foot.

Corns, typically small and round, form on top (hard corns), sides (soft corns) and bottom (seed corns) of your toes and foot.

Calluses

Calluses are hard and thick patches of skin. Compared with corns, calluses are larger and have a more irregular (more spread out) shape. You are most likely to see calluses on the bottom of your foot on the bony areas that carry your weight – your heel, big toe, the ball of your foot and along the side of your foot. Some degree of callus formation on the bottom of your foot is normal.

Calluses are also often seen on hands. For instance, calluses form where there is repeated friction or rubbing– like on the tips of fingers of guitar players or the hands of gymnasts, weightlifters, or craftsmen.

Calluses form on the weight-bearing areas of the bottom of your feet.

Calluses form on the weight-bearing areas of your feet.

How do corns and calluses form?

Corns and calluses develop from repeated friction, rubbing or irritation and pressure on the skin. Corns and calluses typically form on the bony or prominent areas of feet. On the hands, they (more likely calluses) form on the areas where there is ongoing rubbing against the skin.

The hardened layers of skin of corns and calluses are actually your body’s way of protecting the underlying skin from the irritation and pressure.

Who is more likely to get corns or calluses?

You are more likely to develop corns or calluses if:

  • You already have medical conditions that change the normal alignment of the bones in your feet. For example, arthritis in your feet, bunions, bone spurs or hammertoes.
  • You have one or more of the causes of corns and calluses discussed in this article.
  • You walk without socks.
  • You wear shoes that are too narrow for your foot.
  • You smoke cigarettes.

Are corns and calluses painful?

Corns and calluses may or may not be painful. Some corns and calluses may not be painful when they first develop but then become painful over time as they thicken. The raised areas of skin – especially of corns – can be tender or sensitive to touch or pressure. Calluses tend to be less sensitive to touch than the normal skin around it. Sometimes cracks (called fissures) form in a callus. Fissures can be painful. If you had a corn or callus that becomes infected, you will likely feel pain or at least some discomfort.

What are the complications of having corns and calluses?

Untreated (or unsuccessfully) treated corns and calluses might grow larger in size until you fix what caused them to develop in the first place.

Corns or calluses can become infected. This can be painful and make walking difficult. You may need medical or even surgical treatment.

What are the most likely causes of corns and calluses?

Corns and calluses have many of the same causes. These include:

  • Shoes that don’t fit properly. This is the most common cause of corns on the top of the feet. Shoes that are too tight or have areas that rub against your skin cause shearing, friction and pressure. Women who frequently wear high-heeled shoes often develop calluses on the balls of their feet from the downward pressure on this area when walking.
  • Standing, walking or running for long periods of time.
  • Physical hobbies, sports activities or work/labor that put pressure on your feet.
  • Going barefoot.
  • Not wearing socks with footwear.
  • Having socks and/or shoe linings that slip and bunch up under your feet while in shoes.
  • Walking with improper posture – walking too heavily on the inner or outer edge of your foot.
  • Physical hobbies, sports activities or work/labor that cause repeated friction on an area of skin on your hands or fingers.
  • Structural foot deformities or altered biomechanics (hammertoes, tailor’s bunions, deformities from birth).

What are the most likely symptoms of corns and calluses?

Common symptoms include:

  • Hardened areas of skin where there is repeated friction or pressure on the skin (corns and calluses).
  • Small, round, raised bump of hardened skin surrounded by irritated skin (more likely to be a corn).
  • Thick, hardened, larger typically more flatten patch of skin (more likely to be callus).
  • Less sensitivity to touch than the surrounding skin (more likely to be callus).
  • Raised area of bump may be painful or cause discomfort (more likely to be corn).
  • Pain, redness, blisters.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy