Why Do Corns Hurt So Much?

Often the size of a grain of salt, corns can cause considerable pain for to a person. People who suffer from corns can describe a range of symptoms which includes feeling:

‘Pain on pressure when either walking or wearing certain shoes’

‘Like I am walking on small pebbles or stones underneath my foot’

When I often explain to patients exactly what corns are, they are amazed that something that small can be the cause of so much pain. But why exactly are corns so painful? The answer to that question lies in the shape of the corn.

So what are corns?

Corns are simply a collection of keratin cells  which is the most upper layer of the skin. Skin becomes hard as a normal reaction to excessive pressure. This prevents the soft skin from breaking down. But too much of this keratin, can get sore as it presses upon the soft supple skin around it and underneath it. Corns and callouses are both made of keratin and both hard skin, but corns are different in that they are shaped like a cone but the size of a grain. Callous is just like a surface patch of hard skin.

In the feet, they can occur almost anywhere but commonly they are seen on weight bearing areas like the balls of the feet, or in regions that may be stressed from tight shoes; such as in-between toes and on the outsides of the little pinkie toes.  Corns can form spontaneously or develop over time but generally, as skin is subject to areas of pressure, the skin hardens.  Corns develop their cone shape from the rotational pattern of pressure. A corn is very comparable to a tornado in it’s shape and direction of pressure. The longer the pressure, the deeper the corn develops and the more painful it becomes.

In the podiatry world, there are a variety of corns that are treated. Some corns are often mistaken for warts, but characteristically they are quite different. The most commonly seen varieties include:

  • Hard corns
    • Found on areas of direct pressure and weight bearing such as on the surfaces of prominent bones.
    • They are often painful on direct pressure and may be surrounded by hard calloused skin.
  • Seed corns
    • Also found on weight bearing areas such as the heel, however these forms of corns are often not painful.
  • Soft corns
    • Often found inbetween toes (particularly those subject to tight toe spaces or squeezed into tight shoes).
    • These corns can be quite uncomfortable and owe their soft nature to the moisture that tends to form in those tight toe box spaces.
  • Neurovaascular corns
    • As mentioned, these corns can be hard or soft but have the characteristic of being deep enough to involve the superficial nerves and capillaries. The removal of these types of corns may involve some blood being released, but the relief from their removal far outweighs the discomfort in its removal.

As discussed in a previous blog, the best form of treatment for corns is their removal and advice on breaking the cycle that’s resulting in their formation. Plenty of over the counter and home remedies are available, but as I remind patients all the time, a lot of what you are putting on your skin can be harmful (many corn pads use acids to burn the corn off) and may not get to the ‘core’ of the problem.

For quick and effective relief from corns, contact our clinic and book in with one of our professionally trained podiatrists who will be able to help you get back to pain free living.

Dr Anel Kapur (Podiatrist)

Anel Kapur The Podiatry Centre