What are Bunions, Corns and Calluses

At a glance:

  • A bunion is a hard, bony lump that develops on the lower joint on the big toe pushing it inwards
  • A corn is a section of hardened skin surrounded by inflamed tissue that typically develops on a bony prominence that experiences pressure
  • A callus is a section of hard, thickened skin that develops on weight bearing areas that experience friction
  • Bunions may be caused by congenital foot defects, injury, biomechanical problems 
  • Women are more prone to develop bunions than men
  • Wearing well fitted, comfortable shoes is one of the best ways to prevent pain from bunions, corns and calluses.

What is a Bunion?

A bunion is a bony lump that develops when the big toe rotates then moves closer to the second digit. The lump is the result of the head of the metatarsal bone and the base of the big toe moving out of alignment. As the lump grows, the tip of the big toe is pushed inwards towards the other toes, sometimes causing pain and altered gait.

Bunions on the outside of the foot, known as bunionettes, may form on the joint between the metatarsal and the little toe as well, forcing the tip of the little toe inwards towards the other toes. With both bunions and bunionettes, the skin over the lump may become reddened and tender when in poorly fitted shoes, causing pain. 

What are Corns and Calluses?

Corns and calluses are patches of thick, hard or leathery skin that develop in response to pressure or friction to protect underlying tissue. Due to the pressure put on the feet through a combination of wear and tear, impact and improperly fitted shoes, both corns and calluses are commonly found on the feet.

Although both corns and calluses are the result of pressure and friction, they are not the same.

  • Calluses - patches of thickened, hard skin usually found on the weight bearing parts of the body, such as the ball of the foot or heel. They may also form on the palms of the hands (from manual labour or repetitive physical tasks) or on the knees. Calluses may be of any size but are typically larger than corns. Calluses can be painful.
  • Corns - Typically smaller than calluses, corns usually form on non-weight bearing areas, such as the top or sides of the toes. They may also develop on weight bearing areas of the foot. Corns are typically smaller than calluses and usually present with a hard centre or head surrounded by inflamed skin. Corns can cause pain if pressed. 

Symptoms of Bunions 

Aside from an obvious bony lump, bunions may lead to a number of other symptoms, including:

  • Swelling, redness and pain centred around the lowest joint of the big toe (where the bump has formed)
  • Limited movement in the big toe
  • Corns and calluses forming on the  first and second toe as the displaced big toe pushes them together
  • General foot pain that may be either ongoing or that comes and goes
  • Pain when wearing shoes
  • Pain or difficulty when walking
  • Swelling, redness and pain around the little toe (in the case of a bunionette)

In addition to the symptoms, bunions may also contribute to the development of a number of complications, including:

  • Arthritis - inflammation, pain and reduction of mobility in the joints of the toes.
  • Bursitis - around each joint there are fluid filled sacs that are intended to cushion the joint. When these sacs become inflamed it may lead to pain, swelling and a loss of mobility.
  • Hammer toe - this typically occurs in the toe next to your big toe. Pressure from the big toe causes an abnormal bend in the middle joint of the toe, potentially leading to pain and extra pressure on the toes.
  • Metatarsalgia - a general term used to describe pain around the metatarsal heads, which your podiatrist will be able to narrow down to a injured structure or structures. 

Symptoms of Corns and Calluses

Corns and calluses may typically be differentiated by their location but share a number of symptoms, such as:

  • Hardened, raised patches of skin
  • Patches of hard leathery skin that may be dry, flaky or waxy
  • Pain or tenderness - calluses are usually pain free but may cause pain in underlying tissue if they become too large and put pressure on underlying tissues. Corns are more frequently painful when pressed.

There are few complications associated with corns and calluses, but people living with diabetes or other conditions that may affect peripheral blood flow and sensation should monitor the condition of corns and calluses and should never try to remove them at home (cutting or medicated corn removal pads) due to the risk of developing an ulcer. 

You only have one pair of feet so you need to take care of them. If you’re having issues with your feet, whether it’s a bunion, corn or callus, the best thing you can do is schedule an appointment to see a podiatrist .

The fastest and easiest way to book a medical appointment is to do it online with MyHealth1st.

What Causes Bunions, Corns and Calluses?

While they are different conditions, bunions, corns and calluses share some common causes, including:

  • Wearing ill fitting or inappropriate shoes - such as tight, short, narrow or high heeled shoes
  • Foot shape - the natural shape of a person’s foot may make them more susceptible to developing bunions, corns or calluses
  • Congenital foot deformities/biomechanical factors - misshapen feet are more likely to develop, corns and calluses, as are those with biomechanical issues such as flat feet, high arches or hypermobile joints.

In addition to common causes, bunions, corns and calluses also have unique causes and risk factors.


  • Neuromuscular problems, such as cerebral palsy, may make a person more likely to develop bunions
  • Arthritis of the foot may also make bunions more readily develop
  • Having a family history of bunions may increase a person’s chances of developing bunions
  • Women are more prone to developing bunions than men. This may be due to the design of women’s footwear
  • High impact exercise such as dancing may increase the risk of developing bunions as it typically puts pressure on the forefoot
  • Trauma to the big toe may cause it to move out of place leading to the development of a bunion

Corns and Calluses

  • Any activities that may increase pressure or fricions, such as jogging, running or dancing
  • Socks - ill fitting socks may slip around in shoes causing increased friction or pressure where they bunch up. Similarly, not wearing socks may expose areas of your feet to direct pressure or friction from the shoe
  • Age- as a person ages their skin contains less fatty tissue, leaving areas less cushioned and more prone to the development of calluses
  • Walking or running barefoot my increase your chance of developing calluses on your feet
  • Bunions may affect the way you walk or change the way pressure is distributed around the foot leading to the development of corns and calluses
  • Hammer toes may increase the risk of developing corns and calluses

Treatment for Bunions, Corns and Calluses

Bunions, corns and calluses are typically treated differently by a podiatrist, but there is a simple common step that may be taken to prevent them developing.

Wear well fitted shoes and socks - as a rule of thumb (or toe in this case), if you can’t wiggle your toes in your shoes they are too tight. Avoiding pointed toes shoes is advised as they frequently push your toes together. If part of the shoe rubs against part of the foot, the shoe shop may be able to stretch that area.

In addition to wearing well fitting shoes and socks, keeping your feet clean and moisturised, as well as removing areas of hardened skin with a skin file or pumice stone may also help prevent calluses and corns from forming.

Treatment for Bunions

Treatment options for bunions may be divided into two categories; non-invasive and surgical. The type of treatment used varies depending on the severity of the bunion, the discomfort or pain it is causing and any complications it may be causing.

Non-invasive treatment options include:

  • Bunion pads - these over the counter pads are applied to the affected joint and may give a buffer between the joint and shoe easing discomfort
  • Changing shoes - wearing roomy shoes that give your toes plenty of room may help relieve pressure and lessen symptoms
  • Medication - pain relief medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen may be used to help ease discomfort. Cortisone injections may also be used to relieve inflammation and pain
  • Shoe inserts - padded shoe inserts may help some people relieve pain from bunions. In other cases prescription orthoses may be necessary

If the bunion is causing significant pain or problems with normal day to day function, bunion surgery may be recommended. No one procedure is a cure-all for bunions, and treatments may vary due to severity and underlying cause. Surgical procedures include:

  • Removal of inflamed soft tissue around the joint
  • Straightening the big toe by removing some of the bone
  • Straightening the big toe and then fusion the joint
  • Realigning bones in the forefoot that may be causing the toe to be pushed out of place

Treatment for Corns and Calluses

Aside from wearing properly fitting shoes, there are a number of treatment options available for calluses and corns, including:

  • Trimming skin - a podiatrist may trim away thicken skin with a scalpel or specialised tool. The procedure should not be painful in any way but it should not be performed at home due to risk of infection
  • Orthoses - if the corns and calluses are the result of foot deformities or biomechanical issues, prescription orthoses or padded shoe inserts may help ease pressure or friction on the affected areas
  • Surgery - in cases in which a bone is causing the prediction or pressure, such as a bunion or hammer toe, surgery may be required to correct the issue
  • Salicylic acid - prescription (or over the counter) pads containing salicylic acid may be used to remove corns and calluses. A podiatrist will typically let you know how often the pads should be changes and may also advise the use of a pumice or file to remove dead skin before applying a new patch. These are not appropriate for a lot of people due to the indiscriminate action of the salicylic acis and risk of complication 

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