What are foot corns?

What causes foot corns, and why are they so painful?

Foot corns are a common condition we see in our Sydney foot clinics. They affect people from different walks of life, from athletes to elderly people. In some cases, they can be painful and impact on everyday life if left untreated.

A corn is where the skin thickens as a response to mechanical stress. Mechanical stress consists of either shear, friction, pressure, torsion or tension acting on the body. Corns can occur elsewhere in the body, but they are more commonly seen in the feet.

Corns appear as a rough, tough, yellow patch of skin that can be round or raised in appearance.

Not all corns are the same. Different types of corns can occur in the feet, and it’s important to know the difference.

types of corns

Hard corn
On top of the boney areas and underneath the foot
Hard corn
Soft corn
In-between the toes
Seed corn
Under the ball of the foot
Subungual corn
Underneath a toenail
Vascular/Neurovascular corns
High load bearing areas in the feet

What causes foot corns to form?

Repetitive microtrauma or mechanical stress on a localised point on the feet causes excess skin to form to protect the underlying tissue. This chronic localised stress compromises the skin barrier, and it is unable to repair itself at the same rate as the stress. As a result, it forms a plug of hard skin to protect itself. This plug is pushed back into the skin and has the appearance of an inverted cone. This cone-like structure is often referred to as the nucleus. As the mechanical stress increases the nucleus extends down and presses on the inner layer of the skin and even nerves, resulting in pain.


Many factors can lead to excessive localised stress on the feet.

These can be intrinsic or extrinsic factors. 

corn structure

Intrinsic factors







abnormal foot mechanics

abnormal foot mechanics




peripheral Neuropathy

extrinsic factors




poor fitting shoes


excessive exercise

Treatment for corns

Home Treatment

Some foot corns may not be severe enough to require treatment. If you have a foot corn that isn’t painful, we recommend leaving it alone. If it’s the first time having a foot corn, investigating the cause can be a good idea.

When it comes to what causes foot corns, if the cause is a certain pair of shoes in your wardrobe, it’s probably a good idea to get new shoes. Ill-fitting shoes can cause chronic repetitive stress which will eventually compromise the skin.

Wearing padding over the area can help reduce stress on the site and protect your skin.

We don’t recommend the use of corn pads, which use acid. They don’t treat the corn and more often than not, they damage the skin further, sometimes leading to infection. Gently filing the area with a pumice stone or a file can reduce the overlying thickened skin.



Podiatrist Treatment

How long does a foot corn last? Regardless of their size, Corns can be quite painful and can lead to further complications if left untreated. If you have corn that is painful and impacting your daily life, it’s time to see the podiatrist. If you suffer from medical conditions such as diabetes or poor circulation, you should not use corn pads and immediately see a podiatrist.


Podiatrists are trained and skilled in diagnosing and treating foot corns. Corn treatment by a podiatrist will include a proper clinical assessment and immediate treatment which, in most cases, will resolve symptoms in 24 hours, as well as an ongoing treatment to reduce recurrence and symptoms. 


frequently asked questions

Callus’s form due to mechanical stress in a similar way to what corns do. The main difference is corns occur because of higher pressure (often multiples of body weight) causing the callus material (plug) to be driven deeper into the foot.

It is best to see a podiatrist to distinguish the two accurately. Usually, warts are slightly raised and exhibit small black dots within the lesion when examined closely. Also, warts are more painful when squeezed whilst corns are also usually more painful when direct pressure is applied.

Whenever the skin of the foot is mechanically irritated enough to stimulate the skin to lay down more skin for protection. The majority of corns are caused by ill-fitting footwear or use of shoes that are inappropriate for the chosen sport or activity.

Yes, if you are wondering how to get rid of corns on the feet, surgery is an option. However, this is never the first recommended treatment option. All surgery comes with risk. The main risk of surgery to remove a corn is permanent scarring which can lead to chronic pain (much like the original corn that was removed).

Corns are best treated by reducing the underlying cause (mechanical irritation) and gentle removal by an experienced podiatrist. Change in footwear, footwear modification or use of foot orthotics is often recommended

read this next

Do you have a painful corn? Tried all the chemist treatment and it still hasn’t resolved.  Its tie to see a Podiatrist and see how they can help you

Treat your feet and have a medical pedicure with a highly skilled Podiatrist.

request an appointment. ask a question