What Your Symptom Is Telling You
What causes corns—those small, yellowish gray, wartlike protuberances on your toes? "Constant pressure and friction between skin and shoe," says Richard Abdo, M.D., director of the Foot and Ankle Clinic at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts.
As your shoes rub the tops of your toes, the skin thickens and hardens to absorb the punishment. Over the years, the dead skin is molded into a mound called a hard corn, which may be painful, Dr. Abdo says.
If you have more than one hard corn, you may have hammertoe, which is a contraction that pulls the toe upward into a flexed position, forcing it to rub against your shoes.
Soft corns, which develop between toes, are caused when small bone spurs are forced to rub together. The forcing is done by—you guessed it—tight shoes.
If you'd rather keep your corn in the cupboard, try these treatments.
Shed those shoes. You obviously can't stop wearing shoes entirely, but you can go shoeless as often as possible. "It certainly would keep you from having any discomfort," says Steve Guida, D.P.M., a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, podiatrist.
Buy shoes that fit. Make sure that your shoe has what's called a high toebox—which means enough room from the sole of the shoe to the top of the shoe so that your toes are comfortably accommodated, including any corns or hammertoes that you already have. "As long as there is no direct pressure to the top of the foot, you're not going to have any problems with irritations or corns," says Dr. Abdo.
Throw your corn a lifesaver. You can temporarily relieve corn pain by using doughnut-shaped corn pads. Available at any drugstore, most of the nonmedicated pads have an adhesive backing and a hole in the middle that fits directly over the middle of the corn. "The pad takes the pressure off the corn, or at least spreads it out," says Dr. Abdo.
Soak 'em and pumice 'em. After soaking your feet in lukewarm water for 20 to 25 minutes and applying some baby oil directly to the corn, take a pumice stone or an emery board and gently rub off several layers of the corn. Do not use a razor blade! Remember, you're not trying to remove the corn completely, you're just making some room between your corn and your shoe, says Myles Schneider, D.P.M., an Annandale, Virginia, podiatrist and coauthor of How to Doctor Your Feet without a Doctor. Apply a corn pad after the procedure.
Watch that acid wash. Topical acids and plaster treatments purchased over-the-counter to treat corns aren't recommended by the American Podiatric Society, says Dr. Schneider. Many podiatrists feel that these are not safe, as they can cause infections. People with diabetes or circulation problems should not use them at all. But if you do use one, follow the directions carefully—using too much of the acid or using it improperly can burn the healthy skin.
See your doctor. If you're reluctant to wield your own pumice stone, your doctor or podiatrist can soak your feet briefly in a whirlpool to soften the corns and then shave them for you, says Dr. Guida.