By Dr. Brian K. Bailey, Podiatric Physician & Surgeon
When it comes to feet, there are two basic camps.
The first camp appreciates the architecture and functionality of feet, the way the bones, ligaments, nerves and muscles work together to allow us to move freely about our environment.
I belong to this group.
When a member of the second camp looks at feet, all they see is ugly. I am not sure why. Perform an online search and you will see all kinds of comments about ugly feet. People complaining about toes that are too long, too short, too fat. Nails that are ridged, crooked, ingrown. People who have ended otherwise solid relationships because of ugly feet.
Yes, there are some rather ugly things that can happen to feet: hammertoes, athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, calluses, corns. But nearly all of the ugly things that can happen to feet can be fixed. Take corns and calluses for example. These are very common, with estimates that anywhere from six to 62 percent of the population have them. Not surprisingly, they are more common in older people, but athletes, women, people who stand a lot, or who wear poorly fitting shoes are at risk. (Yes, “cute” shoes can lead to ugly feet!)
Although we speak of corns and calluses as though they are the same thing, they are not. Calluses are an accumulation of dead skin cells caused, at least in part, by friction and perspiration. They are one of the body’s natural defense mechanisms, designed to protect the feet from rough treatment.
Many athletes get calluses – gymnasts, runners and the like. Others at risk for calluses are those who have gait abnormalities, diabetics, and people with foot deformities, high activity levels or unusual foot mechanics.
Corns, on the other hand, occur when pressure is applied consistently to a very small area of the foot, typically a bony prominence. There are three types of corns: hard, soft and periungal. Hard corns are more commonly found on the toe joint and are usually caused by the downward pressure of the shoe box on the joint. They are, just as the name implies, hard to the touch.
Soft corns typically occur between the toes, while periungal corns are found near the edge of the toenail.
Typically, corns and calluses are no more than minor inconveniences. Occasionally, however, they can be the sign of another health problem, such as arthritis of the knee or hip, which can disrupt your normal gait and cause pressure where there shouldn’t be any; neuropathy, a condition in which sufferers lose sensation in the affected area – usually the foot, ankle or lower leg; or diabetes, which can wreak havoc on peripheral circulation.
For this reason, we recommend people who suddenly develop corns or calluses for no apparent reason discuss them with their doctor or make an appointment to be seen by a podiatrist.
Good news about corns and calluses
Regardless of whether you are in the “feet are beautiful” or “feet are ugly” camps, there is a lot that can be done about corns and calluses. They can be physically removed by a trained medical professional. This isn’t a job to be done at home, and certainly not one you want to have undertaken during a pedicure at a “nail salon.” Cutting or scraping corns and calluses too deeply can introduce bacteria into the foot, leading to problems that are not easily solved.
This is especially important if you have diabetes! The circulatory problems that frequently accompany diabetes make it very difficult to cure infections and wounds in the feet. Sadly, amputation is too frequently the result. So before you pull out the scissors and blades, think about whether it is worth losing a foot!
Special inserts into the shoes, called orthotics, can help, especially if the corns/calluses are caused by disruptions in gait or a structural abnormality of the foot. The goal is to realign the hips, knees, ankles and feet, to relieve the pressure and friction that cause the condition.
There are some try-at-home aids you can try to prevent or treat corns and calluses but again, it’s highly recommended that you have your feet looked at before you go down this path. Oftentimes, a visit to the podiatrist can save you money, time and frustration. In addition to removing corns and calluses, I am happy to recommend products that might be helpful, including:
• Corn/callus gel pads
• Bunion slipcovers
• Heel cushions
• Ball-of-foot cushions
• Footstep and Powerstep inserts to help correct gait problems
• Biofreeze cold therapy
• Dr. Comfort house slippers
Body-Mind-Spirit Podiatric Center
500 14th Street, Ashland, Kentucky, 41101
Phone (606) 324-FOOT