It may come as no surprise to you to learn that corns on the feet get their name because of their resemblance to kernels of corn (kernels that have somehow landed and gotten stuck on your toes). Corns, like calluses, are caused by pressure on the skin, usually from too-tight shoes, foot deformities, or abnormal ways of walking. For instance, say you wear shoes that have such a tight toe box that in order to get in them, you have to bind your toes together with masking tape. These shoes then rub on your toes, or make your toes rub against each other. Your skin doesn’t enjoy the sensation, so it grows some extra protective layering to defend itself. And hey, presto, you’ve got a corn! Similarly, foot deformities such as hammertoes (not at all related to rapping, in case you were wondering), in which the toes become semi-permanently or permanently scrunched and bent, make parts of the foot like the tops of your toes raised, which then rub against the inside of shoes, resulting in corns. Other causes may include bone spurs or other abnormalities, or an unusual way of walking.
Corns can become quite painful, particularly if the area continues to be exposed to pressure. Eventually, the body may decide that the corn is a foreign invader, and begin to attack it. Corns may become infected, inflamed, irritated, and in general get in a bad mood. Fortunately, they’re usually not too difficult to treat.
In general, corns usually appear with thickened and sometimes horny skin, and may be dry and scaly, or in the case of soft corns (they form between the toes, usually the fourth and fifth) might be white and moist. Unlike calluses, which tend to be rather diffuse thickenings of the skin, corns usually have distinct edges with a central hardened core. That core can have a point that digs downward into the skin, making it quite painful (kind of like having a thumbtack that’s stuck between your shoe and your toe). Corns may resemble kernels of corn in shape, although not always. (Watch out for random wandering hens, which might mistake your corn for breakfast.)
In general, your podiatrist should be able to diagnose a corn by performing a simple examination of your foot. He or she will likely take a good look at your affected skin, and may touch your foot to determine if there’s any discomfort or tenderness at the spot.
The best way to treat corns is to remove whatever is causing the unusual pressure on your foot. If your shoes are to blame, your podiatrist will probably recommend that you make a change in the way you are shod. You’ll want to get shoes with toe boxes that accommodate all your toes comfortably, with a little bit of wiggle room left over. If you have a condition such as hammertoes or bone spurs, your doctor will need to treat the underlying condition as well as the corns. This may include wearing orthotics (prescription shoe inserts), managing inflammation (by use of oral or injected medication), and possibly surgery.
You’ll likely be able to find some relief from the corns themselves by using a doughnut-shaped pad of felt or moleskin to relieve pressure on the area. Your podiatrist may be able to remove the corn surgically if it is particularly bothersome, although be aware that if the cause of the corn is not removed as well, those pesky little bumps will likely come back. Kind of like that ugly sweater of your spouse’s that you keep trying to throw away. However, DON’T attempt to cut the corn off yourself, since doing so can get the area all infected (and admit it—you weren’t really trained as a foot surgeon). You also probably want to avoid over-the-counter chemical corn-removers, particularly if you’re diabetic or suffer from other neurological or circulatory problems. Because they can eat away healthy tissue as well as corns, these must be used with care and only under the direction of a podiatrist.
If you follow your podiatrist’s instructions and get rid of whatever is putting too much pressure on your foot, you should be able to live a corn-free existence. (Well, except for the stuff on the cob.)