Plenty of solutions for that troublesome callus

Calluses/corns can be the bane of a runner’s life but the good news is that the problem is very treatable


I read your book Run Fat Bitch Run and am feeling really inspired. I walked three miles today and hope to begin my run journey by the weekend. My question to you though is, I have a callus on my right foot right under my toes. Today while walking it hurt like hell. Mind you, after reading your comments, The Grit Doctor made me continue, but what can I do to help this?

I am very sorry to hear it, as there is possibly nothing more annoying than finding the motivation – finally - to unglue yourself from the couch, only to end up right back on it, nursing a sore foot!

If ever an excuse was likely to rear its ugly head, it’s now: ‘Oh but I can’t do this programme, I can’t run, I tried to, but I have a callus on my foot which hurts like hell, so its impossible!’

Maybe it has been there for years and you’ve managed to get by without doing anything about it because you’ve not taken on this level of exercise before and so it has never really caused you any pain. I’m guessing this might be the case. And I really do applaud your efforts in walking for three miles – in pain too – and for getting in touch, because it all takes courage. And the good news is this callus will not be the end of your journey into running, far from it.

First stop: A visit to your GP, to confirm the diagnosis and rule out anything else more sinister, and from there to a foot specialist – aka – a podiatrist for treatment (do ask your GP for a recommendation).

For the uninitiated, calluses (and indeed corns) are thickening of the skin on the foot caused by excessive pressure or rubbing, ordinarily brought about by the repeated impact of shoe against affected area when walking. Calluses are, broadly speaking, larger and with a less well defined perimeter than their corn cousins, and they tend to form on the underside of the foot – the sole – and most commonly over the bony area just underneath the toes, which sounds bang on the money in your case.

This is the area which takes a lot of the weight when you walk and so, overweight and unused to exercise, your previously dormant callus has been rudely woken up from a deep sleep – and he is not happy about it!

The number one culprit for calluses (and indeed corns) are poorly fitting shoes, usually they are too tight and/or too narrow. If this is the cause in your case, then it is very welcome news, because it is easily rectified (do bring your shoes to the podiatrist to have a look at) and do NOT buy a new pair first! Your podiatrist may recommend trimming the callus using a scalpel blade (which you will be very pleased to hear that he or she will do for you). This eases the pressure on the underlying tissue.

Sometimes, repeated or regular trimming sessions are needed depending on the severity and stubbornness of the callus!

Once pared down in this way, however, the callus may not return at all, provided you use good footwear from then on, so do invest in a proper pair of podiatrist-approved trainers, and any other footwear gadgetry deemed necessary: padding, insoles, insets, soft shoe inlay – to cushion the callus and help it heal.

What you can do yourself?
If the skin seems to be thickening up again post-podiatrist-paring session, rubbing it down with a pumice stone or emery paper (nail file) every week might just keep it at bay. You can make it part of your running routine, a ritual performed every Sunday after your long run! (I know this sounds like a long way off at the moment, but it will happen) . . . Soak your foot in warm water for 20 minutes to soften the thick skin before attacking it with a pumice stone or emery paper. A moisturising cream used regularly on a trimmed corn or callus will keep the skin softened and easier to rub down. Nothing fancy, any old cream will do. I highly recommend doing this as a preventative measure.

Chemical treatments are available from the chemist without prescription and work by paring down the thickened dead skin with salicylic acid (a keratolytic), which means it dissolves the protein – keratin – that makes up most of the thick layer of dead skin. It is very important to use the right product in the correct amount, again, a podiatrist will point you in the right direction. Indeed, some salicylic acid treatments come as pads and plasters which can be very effective for the wannabe runner and can be worn during walk/runs as a damage limitation aid. All these treatments will turn the top of your skin white, and this dead skin is easy to trim or peel away.

A Grit Doctor health warning:

Although these products can work well, they should not be used if you have diabetes or poor blood circulation. This is because your skin may have trouble healing and so puts you at risk of developing an ulcer: Another good reason to see your GP before embarking upon any unauthorised treatment. Infection is another risk (if your callus becomes red and sore it is most probably infected and you need to see your doctor to get antibiotics to treat it).

Some abnormalities of the foot or toe are so extreme – a deformed toe or a protruding bone part that is jutting out from the toe and causing recurring problems – such that only an operation will do. So be it.

Grit it out, get it sorted and you will never look back.

Tweet your running queries to Ruth @gritdoctor

Ruth Field is author of Run, Fat Bitch, Run