Known to the average person simply as "corns," in the medical profession this condition is called a "heloma" and is characterized by thick areas of skin that develop as a result of extreme amounts of pressure and friction being applied to the skin. Corns, rather than being a defect, are actually your body's way of trying to protect itself from further damage and there are generally two different types of corn that can develop; hard corns, also known as heloma durum, and soft corns, which your doctor may refer to as heloma molle.

Hard Corns ("Heloma Durum")

The most common areas of the body where hard corns develop are on the sole of the foot, on the side of the foot or at the end of the toes. As already mentioned, a corn is a hard area of skin that feels "thicker" than the skin that surrounds it (i.e. normal skin) and often appears as a rounded shape. This hardened skin also often has a yellow tone, but may appear red if it becomes inflamed.

The problem generally stems from incorrect positioning of the feet on a day to day basis, with many people having toes that are bent or curled, preventing them from lying flat inside their footwear. This wouldn't matter if we didn't wear shoes, but as we do, having your feet in this position on a regular basis puts a lot of pressure on the tips of your toes and creates a great deal of friction. Soft skin would constantly tear under these conditions, so as a result the skin in these areas becomes thicker and corns often develop to protect your toes and feet from further damage.

How are Hard Corns Usually Treated?
  • The first step that is often recommended is a change of footwear. By wearing wider shoes or sandals, your toes won't be in constant contact with the interior of your footwear, reducing both pressure and friction.
  • In some cases, it is possible to alter incorrectly positioned toes so that they remain flat when wearing shoes by using either an orthotic device (a type of support for your toes) or some specially designed pads. However, this is only a temporary solution and tends to be relatively inconvenient to use on a long term basis.
  • Surgery. If your toes possess very little flexibility and it is impossible to "straighten" them using the supports we just mentioned, surgery may be an option that is considered. Hardening of the skin and tissue surrounding the toe joints can lead to reduced flexibility and during surgery this tissue will be altered to allow the toe a greater range of motion.
Soft Corns ("Heloma Molle")

Soft corns are caused by the same problem as hard corns; excessive friction between your toes and the interior of your footwear. However, the difference is that soft corns develop in a specific part of the foot; in between the fourth and fifth toes. Why? When the end sections of the bones in these toes (also called phalanges) are slightly wider than normal, they rub against each other and lead to the development of a soft corn. Are there any signs to look out for? If you experience a "burning" feeling specifically in that area, and then notice a blister forming, you are likely going to suffer from soft corns in that area in the near future. This skin won't harden to the same extent as with hard corns since this area is typically kept damp due to your feet sweating. Soft corns give you a continual feeling that you have something stuck between these toes.

How Can Soft Corns Be Treated?
  • Again, changing your footwear for something wider is generally the first course of action that will be taken, providing your toes with more space.
  • A simple pad may be put between these toes to prevent them from rubbing against each other.
  • As always, if both of those treatments fail to provide sufficient relief, surgery can be used as a last resort. This involves making a small incision into the toes that are wider than normal, grinding down these bones to a normal width and then closing the incision carefully with stitches. This is a routine procedure that provides instant relief in many cases and carries a very short recovery period.