The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Corns on the Feet, Not on the Cob

Posted by on Friday, March 2nd, 2012


I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, if I hear someone talk about “corns” on their feet, I pictured something like actual little pieces of yellow corn sprouting on their toes. I wasn’t sure how exactly why corn would grow on a person’s foot, but thought maybe it had something to do with eating too much corn. I wasn’t sure whether I should be careful about eating too much corn in order to avoid getting corns or eat too much in order to create fascinatingly weird corn cob-like feet (and create a portable food source for those on gluten-free diets). I was swayed from that path, though, by more important preoccupations like trying to turn myself into a rabbit and learning how to ride a bike, and thus never went on a corn strike or corn binge.

Now the facts about (foot) corns:

What are corns? Corns of the foot variety are actually much less surreal than the kind I had imagine. Actually, they’re simply patches of thickened skin that develop from friction when your foot rubs against your shoes or socks. Corns are typically found on the joints of your toes, though tiny little “seed corns” occur on the ball of your feet. “Soft corns” are patches of white, moist skin that are found between your fourth and fifth toe; these develop when a deformity of the bones in those toes cause them to rub together. Calluses are similar to corns, but tend to be found on the bottom of your feet, particularly around your heels.

So, uh, why are they called corns…? Here’s what the Online Etymology Dictionary says: “”hardening of skin,” early 15c., from O.Fr. corne (13c.) “horn (of an animal),” later, “corn on the foot,” from L. cornu “horn” (see horn).” Thanks, Online Etymologists!

How do you get them? Should I worry about them? As noted above, you get corns when your feet rub against your shoes or other toes. People with hammertoes typically develop corns, as are people who wear shoes that are too tight or too narrow at the top. Corns are a common problem for ballet dancers; think of how they pack their toes together into pointe shoes. Persistent rubbing can cause corns to become red, irritate and painful; if they break open and become infected, then what was simply annoying is now a problem.

Okay, what should I do about my corns…? First, Do NOT try to trim or cut corns off with scissors or a knife. That will be painful, bad, and probably a quick route to an infection. No, stop, don’t even think about it. The correct way is to rub off the layer of thickened skin. If  your corns are not too thick or irritated, then you can have a pedicurist do it at a salon or do it yourself with an over the counter treatment. These are usually pads with salicylic acid, found in any drugstore. You put the pad on the corn, keep it there as directed, and then soak your foot in warm water for a few minutes. Then you can finish off the job with a pumice stone.  Don’t do this, of course, if the skin on your corns is broken or if you suspect they’re infected. If that’s the case, see a doctor.

If you have hammertoes or soft corns, then you probably need surgery to correct the deformities that are causing the corns.

I would rather not have corns. The first step you can take is to make sure you’re wearing shoes that fit right and  allow your toes to rest naturally without rubbing against each other or your shoes. If you still see corns developing, you can buy a variety of pads and gel caps to protect sensitive areas on your feet. These come in a variety of size and shapes and are probably found right near the corn removers in your drugstore.

If you are not sure what to do about your corns or suspect there are other problems with your feet, contact us at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.



If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.