A painful foot is enough to ruin your whole day. If you feel as if you always have a stone in your shoe, you may have a corn or plantar wart. These common foot conditions look similar and are often confused. It is important to know the difference because the causes, treatments and prevention strategies differ.


Corns and plantar warts have subtle differences. Corns are a build-up of hard, thickened skin whereas plantar warts appear as small, pale-colored, hard growths, explains Stephen Hunter, M.D., of the Hughston Clinic, a center for musculoskeletal injuries in Columbus, Georgia. Plantar warts tend to develop in clusters and have a dry, crusty surface with small black dots, says National Healing Oils. Corns look like a callus and usually occur one at a time.


Corns and plantar warts occur on different parts of the foot. Corns usually occur on top of or between toes, says Hunter. In contrast, plantar warts are found on the bottom, or plantar surface, of the foot, usually on the heel or ball under the big toe, according to Natural Healing Oils.


Plantar warts are caused by the human papillomavirus, says Natural Healing Oils. The warts are contagious and are spread from walking barefoot in public pool areas, locker rooms or shower areas. Corns result from poorly fitting shoes. The pressure of the shoe against a bony prominence, such as the top of the toe, causes the skin to thicken at that point. The thickening forms a cone-shape facing inward that may penetrate deep into the foot and press against a nerve.


Plantar wart treatment centers on curing the viral infection, says Hunter. A health care provider trims the skin surrounding the plantar wart and then applies salicylic acid to resolve the infection. Once the virus is cleared, the skin returns to normal. Corns are relieved by doughnut-shaped foam pads. If the corn continues to cause pain or discomfort, the hardened skin may require surgical removal, says Hunter.


Corns are prevented by wearing shoes that fit properly. Choose shoes with soft soles, low heels and soft uppers, recommends Natural Healing Oils. Wearing thick socks may also help relieve pressure, but only if the socks do not make the shoes too tight. Wearing thongs or shower shoes in locker rooms or pool areas helps reduce the risk of plantar warts.