“Toughen up!” and “Get a thicker skin!” may be useful advice for taking criticism, but thickened skin on the feet is a sign that something is not right. Taking care of our feet is a key element in overall health and well-being. Common foot issues, such as corns and calluses, indicate that the feet and footwear need more attention.
Corns and calluses are patches of dead skin where the tissue becomes thick and tough to protect itself from repeated pressure. Corns often appear on or between the toes; calluses are common on the bottoms, sides, and heels of the foot. These areas can become quite painful and make walking unpleasant. Additionally, the toughened skin restricts blood flow to healthy surrounding tissue. If left untreated, calluses and corns can become serious medical issues, especially for diabetics, the elderly, or others with troubled blood circulation.
Rest assured that prevention is only a few steps away! Proper shoes, socks, and basic foot care can go a long way in preventing corns, calluses, and their ill effects. Careful footwear choices and basic foot care give the longest-term solution for most people. Removing or treating corns or calluses without addressing the underlying cause will only guarantee that the body will re-create the thick skin, putting you back where you started.
Repeated pressure and friction cause corns and calluses, usually caused by shoes that are too tight, too loose, or from heels that put excessive pressure on the ball of the foot. Having shoes that fit properly is absolutely essential to the long-term care of your feet.
Tight shoes that squeeze the toes or rub certain areas cause the body to react by making a hardened cushion of skin to absorb the friction. But the solution is not having overly loose shoes either! Footwear that allows the foot to slide around will cause a similar reaction. With backless shoes, for example, the toes may clench to hold the shoe on the foot. This causes the toes to rub against the top of the shoe, creating friction. Similarly, a shoe that does not properly support the back of the foot can cause the heel to become callused.
In addition to choosing shoes that are neither too tight nor too loose, there are a few other things to keep in mind. Having a toebox that allows for the natural shape of the foot to rest comfortably is one key to proper-fitting footwear. The arch extends and retracts as we walk, and having the proper support keeps the foot stable and reduces friction. Also pay attention to stitching or seams that may press against the sides or top of the foot.
High heels, especially those with narrow or pointed toes, are often culprits of foot problems, including corns and calluses. The pressure that high heels put on the ball of the foot, right behind the toes, can affect gait, posture, and overall foot health and safety. What constitutes a high heel? Podiatrists define them as pumps with heels greater than two inches, and deem them “medically unsound.”*
Daily care of our feet will go a long way in staying healthy and pain-free. Pay attention to socks that are too tight, that bunch, or have seams that irritate the toes, as these issues mimic shoe problems. Scrubbing the feet with a brush in the bath or shower will loosen dirt and soften the skin. Drying carefully between the toes can prevent painful soft corns. Using a thick emollient moisturizer will avoid dryness, which can be another cause for corns and calluses. Keeping the foot’s skin supple, in addition to proper socks and footwear, will go the distance in avoiding preventable thickened skin.
Remember to shop for shoes late in the day when feet are swollen, and buy shoes from a quality retail location that takes the time to measure your feet and get the right match for your needs. Properly fitted inserts may be used to make everything just right. By taking care of your feet, your feet will take care of you!
* American Podiatric Medical Association: Footwear http://www.apma.org/learn/FootHealthList.cfm?navItemNumber=498