Corns are hard or “horny” areas of dead skin that form as a result of continual friction, usually from shoes that are too tight or constricting or otherwise do not fit properly. As friction increases, the skin forms a hard barrier to protect the structures underneath. Corns most commonly form between the toes, on the tops or sides of the toes, or on the bottom of the foot. Unlike the closely-related calluses, corns have a central core portion that can be very painful and tender when touched.
Mild corns may be treated by wearing better-fitting shoes or with custom orthotics designed to reduce pressure and friction on the skin. Special pads may also help prevent friction that causes skin to become hard. Often, corns must be gently removed using special techniques to eliminate the hardened skin and painful core while preserving the surrounding healthy tissue. Although do-it-yourself drugstore products are available, it is best to see a podiatrist to have corns professionally removed to avoid damaging surrounding skin or causing burns, both of which can significantly increase the risk of developing an infection. In very few cases when corns recur and cause serious issues with mobility, surgery may be needed to correct an underlying gait problem that may be causing corns to form.
When corns occur because of a person's foot shape or gait issues that cause areas of uneven pressure and wear, custom orthotics may be necessary to keep corns from returning. In other cases, changing shoe size or shape may help reduce friction and prevent corns from occurring. Special inserts and padding may also help, but it is important to have any shoe insert or pad provided by a professional to avoid making problems worse.