Podiatry and the treatment of calluses

Our feet are subject to the stresses and pressures of our everyday movements, and as such it should come to no surprise that they sometimes suffer painful and uncomfortable conditions, particularly if injured in some way. Podiatrists are specialists who focus on treating various ailments of the foot, one of the most common of which are calluses.

What are calluses?

A callus is simply an area of skin that has been exposed to repetitive pressure or friction, and has undergone a change in texture and consistency as a result. Calluses are harder and thicker than surrounding skin, and while they can affect fingers and hands (particularly if a person is involved in activities like weight lifting or guitar playing), they are largely found on feet.

Our skin responds to stimuli in order to adapt and protect us from injury. As a defensive barrier preventing our exposure to infection from the surrounding world, our skin needs to be able to adapt to preserve us against injury. As an area of skin is repeatedly subject to friction, the cells in that area change the way they behave and the way in which they are structured. Ultimately a callus forms because a particular type of skin cell called a keratinocyte accumulates at the site of injury, as these cells accumulate and die in this area, they form a thick, leathery region of skin which we recognize as a callus.

Calluses are usually little more than an inconvenience, however overtime calluses can become vulnerable to infection or ulceration, particularly in diabetics. Diabetes isn’t a disease that directly affects the foot, however complications caused by diabetes affect the structure of the foot, particularly in terms of its circulation. These changes leave the foot extremely vulnerable to injury, and so calluses on a diabetic’s foot can easily become sites of severe injury and ulceration.

How does podiatry treat calluses?

Podiatrists are well-trained in the detection and management of calluses. While many calluses will disappear on their own, some can become particularly painful or uncomfortable, forming corns (calluses with a distinctive shape) in some cases and causing infection in others.

Podiatrists can pare down a callus, leaving smooth, pristine skin where it was once hard and dead. The process of paring is one that requires careful training and experienced, particularly if surgical tools like knives are used. In many cases a podiatrist might just recommend and advise you on the use of a pumice stone, a textured rock which can be used to gently rub away at a callus provided instructions are carefully followed.

Your podiatrist can also assess the state of your foot and determine what is responsible for causing your calluses. In many cases calluses are caused by poorly fitted foot-wear, and by adjusting said foot-wear, often through inserted orthotics, the callus-causing pressure on a foot can be effectively relieved.

Podiatrists are particularly important in managing calluses on the feet of diabetics. As mentioned above, a diabetic’s foot can be extremely vulnerable to serious infections. In these cases calluses need to be carefully addressed in a safe manner that does not expose the foot to any risk of infection. Similarly steps to prevent the callus from worsening are also extremely important for diabetics, particularly as calluses can just be an early stage of a more serious condition like ulceration in the diabetic foot.

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