There are many things your body can do to communicate with you. For instance, throwing up is your body’s way of saying, “There’s something really gross/dangerous in here that needs to come out.” While less dramatic than upchucking the remains of dinner, calluses are still a way for your body to tell you something’s up. In this case, your skin is saying, “Whoa, there! Too much pressure!”
Calluses form over time when an area of your skin experiences continual pressure or friction (rubbing). In the case of the feet, this is often (although not always) related to tight or ill-fitting shoes. Calluses may also be caused by unusual bone growths on your feet, or a misalignment of your foot that produces abnormal pressure in certain areas. Your body forms calluses to protect your skin from being rubbed raw every time it encounters that pressure. Calluses may actually be helpful in some circumstances, but if they become too thick or extensive, they may become inflamed and painful, or the body may begin to treat them as foreign objects. And, some people might just not enjoy the way they look.
By the way, thickenings of the skin on the foot may also be identified as corns, although corns are typically more discreet than calluses (they have more defined edges) and usually occur on the top of the foot, whereas calluses tend to show up on the bottom.
Calluses typically manifest as a thickening and hardening of the skin. Unlike corns, which usually form as an upside-down cone shape with the point going into your skin, calluses are generally more diffuse, lacking that cone point. You may also notice that the callused area becomes flaky and dry.
If your callus becomes painful, it may be time to go see your podiatrist about it. He or she will likely make the diagnosis by examining the area visually and by feel. Your podiatrist may also ask you about any other problems you may be experiencing with your foot, if the callus is suspected to be a symptom of an underlying abnormality, such as a bunion.
Calluses can be treated a few different ways, but the most important thing to remember is that without the removal of the original cause (the pressure or friction on the skin), the callus will probably come back, even if it’s removed surgically.
So, the first step is to get shoes that don’t rub your feet the wrong way. Find some that fit comfortably when you first try them on. (Get the size that fits the larger of your two feet.) Your podiatrist may also recommend orthotics, or prescription shoe inserts that are designed to support your particular foot, to relieve pressure on the callused area. Getting better fitting shoes may be the only treatment you need. While you’re waiting for the callus to go away, you can further relieve pressure on it by purchasing (or making, if you’re particularly skilled in cutting things out of cotton or felt) donut-shaped pads to place over the callus.
Whatever you do, though, don’t try to cut the callus off yourself with a knife or a razor. Doing so can result in an infected wound, which would be much worse than that callus ever was. Instead, you can try applying urea cream nightly to soften the skin, and possibly gently rub it with a pumice stone. If you decide to use medicated pads to remove calluses, be aware that these pads often contain acids that eat away everything: healthy tissue as well as callus, so use them with care, and get your doctor’s advice before doing so. Your podiatrist may also be able to trim and work on the callus and provide padding for it.
Rarely, some people may notice that the callus becomes ulcerated and infected. If this is the case, particularly if you are diabetic, get an appointment with your podiatrist right away. He or she will be able to determine ways to treat the infection.
If the above methods prove ineffective, or if there’s an underlying structural problem with your foot that’s causing the callus, then surgery may be necessary. Your podiatrist can discuss surgical options with you more thoroughly.