A wart is a small growth on the skin that develops when the skin is infected by a virus. Warts can develop anywhere on the foot, but typically they appear on the bottom (plantar side) of the foot. Plantar warts most commonly occur in children, adolescents, and the elderly. The virus that causes warts generally invades the skin through small or invisible cuts and abrasions. If left untreated, warts can grow to an inch or more in circumference and can spread into clusters of several warts; these are often called mosaic warts. Plantar warts are spread by touching, scratching, or even by contact with skin shed from another wart. The wart may also bleed, creating another route for spreading. Most warts are harmless, even though they may be painful. They are often mistaken for corns or calluses, which are layers of dead skin that build up to protect an area, which is being continuously irritated. The wart, however, is a viral infection.
Plantar warts tend to be hard and flat, with a rough surface and well-defined boundaries; warts are generally raised and fleshier when they appear on the top of the foot or on the toes. Plantar warts are often gray or brown (but the color may vary), with a center that appears as one or more pinpoints of black. It is important to note that warts can be very resistant to treatment and have a tendency to reoccur.
When plantar warts develop on the weight-bearing areas of the foot (the ball of the foot, or the heel, for example), they can be the source of sharp, burning pain. Pain occurs when weight is brought to bear directly on the wart, although pressure on the side of a wart can create equally intense pain.
Self-treatment is generally not advisable. Over-the-counter preparations contain acids or chemicals that destroy skin cells, and it takes an expert to destroy abnormal skin cells (warts) without also destroying surrounding healthy tissue. People with diabetes and those with cardiovascular or circulatory disorders especially should avoid self-treatment with such medications. Never use these medications in the presence of an active infection.
It is wise to consult our podiatrist when any suspicious growth or eruption is detected on the skin of the foot in order to ensure a correct diagnosis. It is possible for a variety of more serious lesions to appear on the foot, including malignant lesions such as carcinomas and melanomas. Although rare, these conditions can sometimes be misidentified as a wart.
It is possible that your podiatric physician will prescribe and supervise your use of a wart-removal preparation. More likely, however, removal of warts by a simple surgical procedure, performed under local anesthetic, may be indicated. Lasers have become a common and effective treatment, under local anesthesia in either our office. The laser reduces post-treatment scarring and is a safe form for eliminating wart lesions.
- Avoid walking barefoot
- Change shoes and socks daily
- Keep feet clean and dry
- Check children’s feet periodically
- Avoid direct contact with warts from other persons or from other parts of the body
- Do not ignore growths on, or changes in, your skin
- Visit your podiatric physician as part of your annual health checkup