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What causes callus between the toes?

Painful interdigital callus – treatment options

Callus is a direct response to friction.  When callus appears between the toes, it is often a sign that the friction is directlyInterdigital callus related to a bone spur on one or more adjacent toes.  In many cases, the boney prominence is normal anatomy that has become poorly aligned.  The optimal relationship for fingers and toes is where the prominence of one finger or toe (adjacent to the joint) is positioned immediately against the concavity of the adjacent toe (non-joint portion of the toe).  Time changes the positions of the toes and in most adults we’ll see poor alignment of the toes resulting in interdigital callus (hammer toes, mallet toes, etc).

Interdigital calluses are a protective build-up of skin that is intended to reduce direct pressure to underlying healthy skin.  As the callus thickens, pain begins as a mild irritation but soon progresses to a burning sensation between the toes.  The pain of an interdigital callus can limit the types of shoes you can wear and participation in specific activities.

What activities contribute to interdigital calluses?

Walking and running can provide enough range of motion of the toes to create interdigital callus.  Multi-directional sports such as soccer and football increase the range of motion of the toes and hence, increase the potential for interdigital callus.  In ballet and recreational dance I see a lot of dancers with interdigital callus, particularly when the dance includes pointe.  Two other sports that we see that have a high potential for interdigital callus are skiing and rock climbing.

Conservative treatment of interdigital callus

Knowing that interdigital callus is due to an underlying boney prominence and friction, the goal of conservative care is to separate the toes and reduce friction between the toes.  This can be accomplished with several types of foam or gel toe separators.  Which foam or gel toe separator is best for your needs?  The size, shape, thickness and density of a toe separator is to a great degree a personal choice and does require some trial and error.

soft corn pads  Soft Corn Pads slip gently between your toes to cushion painful corns and calluses. Great for relieving friction or rubbing between toes, pinching caused by overlapping toes, and pressure from adjacent toes and hammer toes. [read more]

toe separator gel    Gel Toe Separators bring relief to crooked, overlapping toes by gently creating space between them. Medical-grade, long-lasting silicone pads infused with mineral oil to cushion corns and calluses and soothe toe pain. [read more]

toe separator    3-Layered Toe Separators support, cushion, and create space between your toes with a firm foam center and soft foam outer layers. Relieve pain caused by overlapping toes, hammer toes, corns, and calluses. [read more]

toe separators    Large Firm Toe Separators are made of durable, washable foam and separate the first and second toes by 1/2". They're perfect for cushioning and aligning your big toe, and controlling toe pain and bunion pain. Great for use after bunion surgery. [read more]

toe separator    Gel Bunion Spacers help align the big toe, relieve bunion pain, and ease deep joint pain between your toes. Reduce irritation between adjacent and overlapping toes caused by bunions. Useful as a splint after bunion surgery. Made of silicone infused with mineral oil to cushion and soften corns and calluses. [read more]

toe separator    The Gel Bunion Spacer with Stay-Put Loop gently aligns the big toe into proper position while softening corns and calluses with mineral oil-infused, medical-grade silicone. The Stay-Put Loop ensures that the spacer will not move. [read more]

Surgical treatment of interdigital callus

Surgical treatment of interdigital callus addresses the underlying bone prominence.  In many cases, correction of interdigital callus is a simple out-patient procedure that involves removing the bone spur.  A common location of interdigital callus is between the first and second toes.  These images show a patient who has had local anesthesia and sedation and is having their bone spur rasped or reduced.  The x-rays show reduction of the bone spur.  This procedure can be performed in the office or in the operating room.  The post-operative course requires a light bandage for a week followed by just a simple Band-Aid.  Most patients return to regular shoes at 1 week.

resection interdigital callus    x-ray interdigital callus resection    bone spur resection toe


Dr. Jeffrey Oster
Jeffrey A. Oster, DPM

Medical Advisor

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