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Corns and Calluses at a Glance
  • Corns and calluses result from prolonged application of forces to the skin and produce painful symptoms.
  • Every weight-bearing human being is vulnerable.
  • Lesions occur in predictable pedal locations.
  • Corns and calluses show changes within the epidermis, dermis, and adipose layer.
  • There are no associated systemic abnormalities.
  • Treatments are available and vary in aggressiveness.

Every human being, with the exception of the nonweight-bearing infant, is vulnerable to the development of corns and calluses, because the skin is subjected to regular mechanical stress. The prevalence of corns and calluses can be readily appreciated by the number of nonprescription products aimed at reducing or preventing them—a billion-dollar market annually.

The earliest known discussion of these lesions can be found in the writings of Cleopatra, who authored a textbook on cosmetics.1 Corns and calluses have plagued humankind since antiquity, affecting those at all socioeconomic levels.

Certain foot types and regions are prone to mechanically induced skin thickening, regardless of race, gender, or age.

Corns and calluses result from the prolonged application of excessive mechanical shear or friction forces to the skin. In theory, these forces induce hyperkeratinization, which leads to a thickening of the stratum corneum, although the precise mechanism by which this occurs remains unknown. If the abnormal forces are distributed over a broad area (i.e., more than 1 cm2), a callus develops. In contrast, a corn will form if the same forces are applied to a focused location, with the lamellae of the stratum corneum becoming impacted to form a hard central core known as the radix or nucleus (Fig. 98-1).

Figure 98-1

A simple corn beneath the fifth metatarsal head. Note the white central radix or nucleus, which has been partially pared. This radix must be pared to provide comfort.

Mechanical keratoses are not determined genetically. Heredity does play a role, however, in configuring the individual's skeletal architecture. A family history of bony abnormality or ligamentous laxity predisposes the person to the presence of sites of increased cutaneous friction or shear. The prevalence of these lesions has also proven to be significantly higher in females, certain ethnic groups, and mentally ill patients.2,3


Corns and calluses produce painful symptoms often described as burning, especially when the affected area is weight bearing and/or shoes are worn. This discomfort is thought to result from microtearing of the thickened, inflexible skin.

Cutaneous Lesions

Corns [clavi or helomata (singular: clavus or heloma)] and calluses [tylomata (singular: tyloma)] are, respectively, keratotic papules and plaques that occur in areas that are subject to sustained excessive mechanical shear or friction forces.

Related Physical Findings

The lesions occur in ...

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