Is It a Plantar Wart or a Callus?

The soles of your feet are leathery and tough, marked by rough patches or even areas that look like they’ve been sprinkled with black seeds. You think they’re just calluses and will go away on their own, but they don’t. Now the patches have started to hurt.

Michael J. Frazier, DPM, founder of The Frazier Foot and Ankle Center in Cypress, Texas, knows that any lesion on the bottom of your foot can cause you to change your gait and potentially lead to other problems in your foot and ankle. Here he offers a few insights into the difference between a pressure callus and plantar warts, how each affects the health of your feet, and what you can do about them. 

Calluses are thickened skin

Plantar warts and calluses look similar. Sometimes you can even develop a callus over a plantar wart. 

Calluses are caused by pressure on the weight-bearing parts of your foot. You tend to develop them on your heel or on the ball of your foot, underneath your foot bones. 

When you examine calluses, they look like thick, toughened areas of normal skin. The whorls and patterns of your healthy skin continue unbroken over the callus.

Most of the time, calluses don’t hurt. A callus is your skin’s way of protecting itself from injury due to constant rubbing from shoes or socks.

Calluses are usually not very painful, but if they grow large they can be, especially when you press them directly. Large calluses can also change the way you walk, which may throw your feet and legs out of alignment. Calluses usually go away on their own, but can be a problem if you have diabetes or peripheral artery disease (PAD), which slow blood circulation to your feet and may prevent you from feeling pain if you injure your foot.

Plantar warts are an infection

Though plantar warts (aka plantar verrucae) often look like tough, raised patches on your skin and may occur at the same time as calluses, they’re actually caused by an infection with a variant of the human papillomavirus (HPV). As with other types of HPV infections, you contract it through your skin. In the case of plantar warts, you can be exposed to HPV while walking barefoot in:

The HPV enters your feet through tiny breaks, cuts, or weak spots in the plantar region, which is the sole of your foot. You can even get HPV by stepping on a bathmat that’s been used by someone who has plantar warts, or by using their socks or towels. Plantar warts grow in moist, warm environments, which is why they can multiply quickly if you don’t keep your feet clean and dry.

In contrast to calluses, plantar warts don’t look like your normal, toughened skin on close inspection. Instead of running through the lesion — as in a callus — your skin lines go around the wart. Plantar warts tend to have distinct borders, too, whereas calluses have diffuse borders that blend in with unaffected skin.

A giveaway sign that the tough patch on your sole is a plantar wart is the presence of dark spots, sometimes called seeds. These tiny dots are actually small blood vessels that the wart produces for nourishment. Not all plantar warts have seeds, however.

Treating calluses and plantar warts

Most calluses and plantar warts go away on their own, but plantar warts can spread to other parts of your feet if not treated. Don’t try to shave a callus or plantar wart yourself, because you could seriously injure your foot and cause an infection. 

Soak your calluses and warts in a warm foot bath to help soften them, then buff away the excess skin with a pumice stone. Be sure to use a separate foot bath and pumice stone on your warts so that you don’t spread them to healthy skin. Apply moisturizer to the bottoms of your feet to keep the skin soft and pliable.  

You might also try over-the-counter medications with salicylic acid to gradually slough off the warts. The salicylic acid also stimulates your immune system to protect against future warts.

Switch to shoes that give your toes and feet room to breathe. Even over-the-counter shoe inserts can take some pressure off the soles of your feet to help prevent new calluses, allow your current callus to heal, or relieve the pain of plantar warts. 

If your callus or plantar warts are very painful, change the way you walk, or start to bleed, contact Dr. Frazier. He treats plantar warts with salicylic acid, cryotherapy, a pulsed-dye laser, or antiviral medications.

Get smooth, healthy feet again with callus and plantar wart treatments. Contact us today by calling 281-607-1863 or using our online appointment form.

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