What Your Foot Callus Might be Telling You

Calluses on your feet are more than just a sign you could use a good pedicure. They may be telling you about underlying problems with your bones, joints and movements. Officially known as hyperkeratosis, calluses involve the thickening of the skin in response to some type of pressure, rubbing or irritation.¹

Although hyperkeratosis is your body’s natural way of protecting itself, calluses can lead to a decreased sensitivity of the foot and more severe issues, such as corns and reduced mobility. Paying attention to calluses at their earliest stages can help you address and correct the underlying causes while avoiding more severe problems down the line. 

Why Calluses Form

The abnormal pressure, rubbing or irritation on your foot is the simple answer as to why calluses form. The answer becomes more complex when you look for the underlying cause behind the irritation. Mechanical stress from poorly fitting shoes and abnormal foot biomechanics can be to blame, as can bony prominences or deformities that result in increased friction on certain areas of the feet.¹

What They Could Indicate

Calluses formed by abnormal foot biomechanics are generally telling you, quite simply, your gait is messed up. The position of the calluses can indicate exactly how your gait is compromised, which is best understood by reviewing how your feet were designed to move.

During a normal gait, the heel strikes the ground first and the foot is briefly rigid. The foot then immediately turns into a flexible structure as it unlocks the ankle hinge joint, adapts to the ground beneath it, then again becomes a rigid lever you use to push off the ground. Your big toe area takes most of your body weight, while the other toes pick up the balance. Normal gaits typically don’t lead to callus formation.²

An abnormal gait, often caused by disturbances in the bones and joints of your foot, can cause undue pressure and irritation on specific areas of your foot and the development of calluses.² Where calluses form can frequently pinpoint where the problem lies:³

Callus Distribution Patterns

Callus Distribution Patterns

A. On ball of foot beneath second toe: Caused by an elongated second toe or shortened big toe
B. On the ball of the foot beneath the second and third toes: Caused by hypermobility of the first ray; On the outer edge of the big toe, known as “pinch callus:” Caused by altered movement patterns during gait cycle
C. On ball of foot beneath the big toe and fifth toe: Caused by rigid plantarflexed first ray
D. On ball of foot beneath big toe and second toe: Caused by semiflexible first ray
E. On ball of foot beneath fifth toe: Caused by uncompensated rearfoot varus or rigid plantarflexed fifth toe
F. On entire center portion of ball of foot: Caused by ankle equinus condition

How to Address the Issues

A two-step plan of action can help by first alleviating any symptoms then addressing the underlying cause.¹ Calluses caused by poorly fitted footwear may respond to an easy fix of supportive, quality shoes.

Exercise programs that focus on proper biomechanics and keeping your gait and feet properly strengthened and stabilized can help with calluses caused by faulty movement patterns or foot abnormalities. Pilates and Foundation Training programs are wise choices, as both strengthen your core, promote proper movement and work the intrinsic and extrinsic foot muscles to further perpetuate a normal gait.

Stay tuned for more details on specific foot conditions.

REFERENCES

  1. Freeman DB. Corns and Calluses Resulting from Mechanical Hyperkeratosis. Am Fam Physician. 2002;65:2277-80.
  2. Gibbs RC, Boxer MC. Abnormal biomechanics of feet and their cause of hyperkeratosis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1982;6:1061-1069.
  3. Michaud TC. Human Locomotion: The Conservative Management of Gait-Related Disorders. Newton, MA: Newton Biomechanics; 2001.