What is a Corn?

A callus is a build-up of skin that gets thicker in order to protect the area it covers. It becomes a corn when a mass of dead cells develops in the center. It is not unusual to have corns on the tops and sides of the toes or on the balls or heels of the feet.

Hard corns are small patches of thick, dead skin with a packed core. They are found on tops of toes or on the side of the little toe. Soft corns are tender areas of skin with a thin, smooth surface. They are found between the fourth and fifth toes. Seed corns are tiny calluses that can be very painful. They are found on the bottom of the foot.


Corns are caused by rubbing or pressure. External causes of corns include shoes or socks that do not fit properly; going barefoot; and movement that causes or increases friction or stress against the skin. Internal causes of corns include skeletal deformities, bony protrusions, impaired foot biomechanics, and, some doctors think, plugged sweat ducts.


A corn is usually painful. It has a distinct border with a varied texture. A corn may be soft or hard. Some symptoms are more severe and are characteristic of those who have diabetes, poor circulation, or neuropathy. They include fever, drainage, change in color of the toes, signs of gangrene, an increase in pain and swelling, and spreading or streaking redness around the callus. Medical attention is needed immediately for these symptoms.


Observation is the normal means of diagnosing corns. An x-ray may be taken to look at bones under the skin that might be causing the corn. Further diagnosis may involve a biopsy.


Treatment after the diagnosis varies from at-home measures to surgery.

  • Most corns disappear over time when the friction or stress stops. At-home care includes protecting the corn with a moleskin pad until it heals, soaking the feet, using a pumice stone to rub off dead skin, applying moisturizing creams, wearing shoes and socks, and not going barefoot.
  • Dr. Burmeister may help the healing process by shaving the hardened area or by using medication to break up the hardened area. He may also prescribe stronger creams to apply to the corn. If an infection is apparent, treatment may include an incision and drainage along with antibiotics.
  • If Dr. Burmeister feels that the corn is due to gait or abnormal foot structure, orthotics or corrective surgery may be recommended.


  • Corns can be prevented by taking simple measures.
  • Wear shoes that fit properly. Shop for shoes when the feet are most swollen, at the end of the day. Avoid shoes with high heels and pointed toes.
  • Wear cotton socks.
  • Help keep the feet dry by using foot powder.
  • Replace worn shoes.

Follow all of these steps to prevent the calluses that turn into corns.

If you experience a menacing corn on your foot, Dr. Jeffrey Burmeister, DPM, and his experienced staff are ready to fully diagnose, treat, and see you on your way to pain-free living.