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Key Differences Between Calluses and Bunions

Foot problems come in many shapes and forms, two of them being calluses and bunions. Some people believe that calluses and bunions are the same thing. However, the truth is that there are key differences between these two common foot conditions in terms of how they look, what causes them, and whether they cause foot pain. We’ll break down the major differences between calluses and bunions to help you identify which (if either) you have.

What is a Callus?

A callus is an area of hardened skin that can occur anywhere on the body. The most common places for calluses to form are on finger pads/fingertips, toes, the heel of your foot, and the ball of your foot. 

Calluses tend to be more spread out than corns, which are more condensed and may be harder. The main cause of a callus is friction from rubbing against something repeatedly. Many weightlifters experience calluses on their hands. Additionally, wearing the wrong size shoes or walking around without socks are common causes of calluses.

It is very common for calluses to form as a result of pressure or friction on your feet. Tight shoes, or shoes with a narrow toe box, can cause calluses. Calluses are often on the balls of your feet or heels and can vary in size. Sometimes they're merely an unsightly problem, but they can also be painful. 

What is a Bunion?

A bunion, also referred to as hallux valgus, is a painful bony prominence that forms at the joint base of your big toe. Bunions form at the juncture of the phalanx bones and the metatarsal bone, also known as the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP). Unlike calluses, which are the result of excessive friction and dead, thickened skin, bunions are bone growths. While anyone can develop a bunion, they are more common in women.

These bony lumps appear on the side of your foot and are caused by pressure that pushes the lowest joint in your big toe out of its proper position. Common causes of bunions include genetics and wearing shoes that are too tight or that have high heels. Wearing narrow shoes can also cause bunions. Most bunions start out small but worsen over time due to the MTP joint’s flexion.

Besides the unsightly lump, you may also have difficulty moving your big toe or have swelling or redness. Bunions are a medical condition that causes pain that may worsen when you wear shoes. They can even make it difficult to walk. 

Can Calluses Form on Bunions?

Calluses form on bunions when bunions rub against the inside of a shoe. This is common, especially given that bunions are the widest part of the foot. This may cause people to think that they can fit into tight-fitting shoes that are too small to fit them and their bunions. 

You may also develop a callus on your first or second toe because of pressure from a bunion on the big toe. Calluses can also form on the other toes where they rub against each other as a result of the increased pressure from the bunion.

How to Treat Calluses and/or Bunions

Both bunions and calluses are caused by pressure on your feet, but the treatments are very different.

In the early stages of a bunion, changing to comfortable shoes, losing weight, or wearing shoe padding may help ease bunion pain and stop the problem from worsening. You may need to avoid ill-fitting shoes or those that push your toes together, such as high heels. If that's not enough, a podiatrist may recommend bunion surgery to correct the problem.

Treating Calluses

Calluses can be removed with a proper foot care routine that involves soaking your feet in warm, soapy water to soften the skin. Removing dead skin and moisturizing with a high quality foot cream for dry, callused skin may also help prevent or treat calluses.

A podiatrist may cut away thickened skin from a callus with a specialized tool. In some cases, the podiatrist may recommend orthotics to correct the position of your foot and ease pressure and friction. Salicylic acid can also remove calluses.

Treating Bunions

Bunions do not resolve on their own.  Once the bunion (hallux valgus deformity) forms the next step is to manage the symptoms and keep the condition from getting worse. Conservative measures for bunion deformities, such as orthotics, should be employed first.  Many times conservative steps to manage your bunion deformity can slow or even stop the progression and resolve the pain. 

It is important to see a foot and ankle specialist before the problem gets too advanced. In the event that conservative measures fail, a foot and ankle specialist can review the best course of action from a surgical standpoint to address your problem. 

Making sure you have a regular foot care routine may also be helpful for preventing calluses and bunions. Take care of your feet and they will take care of you! 

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