What are corns?
I get asked this question a lot, and people want to know the difference between corns and hard skin. Both are produced in response to pressure, whether it be pressure from the ground, footwear or another part of the foot.
Hard skin (callus) is formed to protect the foot and in small amounts and in certain areas is classed as normal. Excessive buildup, and callus in the wrong areas, can be uncomfortable and unsightly, which is why people want it removed. However, it is not nearly as painful as a corn.
Corns are localised areas of extremely hard skin resembling a bead of glass. They contain high levels of keratin, which is a structural protein found in hair, skin and nails. Hard corns will produce sharp pain when pressure is applied and will not spontaneously go without treatment. Soft corns are found between the toes, and although they don’t look much, are extremely painful. Seed corns are tiny and are linked to dry skin. These are sometimes found in clusters or on bony prominences, but will improve when the dry skin is treated.
Curing a corn is not easy, as simply removing it does not stop it reforming, although it does bring immediate relief. It takes skill and practice to enucleate a corn well, and is not something that should be attempted as a home treatment. Medicated corn plasters contain salicylic acid and break the skin, with the idea that the corn falls out. I’m yet to see that happen, but I do see an area that is sore and opened up to potential infection. For this reason we do not advocate using them. Our role as podiatrists is to remove pain and form a treatment plan to prevent the corn returning where possible. This requires a good knowledge of biomechanics of the foot & leg, regular enucleation of the corn, and a willingness by the client to carry out the necessary changes advised.
It does provide great job satisfaction when long-standing corns disappear for good and the client is free of pain. We are always up for the challenge!