How to Tell If You Have Plantar Warts

Essex Union Podiatry offers a walk-in wart treatment clinic

A pain in the foot—that’s what you get with plantar warts.

There are all kinds of warts, which are skin growths that are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Experts estimate there are from 60 to 100 types of HPV, and while only some of them cause warts on the skin, it can be confusing which kinds of the many skin growths are plantar warts.

Plantar warts, so called because plantar means “bottom surface,” are lesions that appear as one single wart or in clusters on the bottom of the foot. And although they are caused by a particular strain of HPV, it is not the same HPV strain that causes genital warts.

Plantar warts form when the HPV virus enters the outer layer of the skin on the bottom of the feet through breaks, tiny cuts or other weakened spots, and the immune system cannot fight them off.

They are particularly annoying as they are located near a weight-bearing surface of the foot, making it painful or uncomfortable to bear weight. They are also contagious—easily spread and easily acquired.

Plantar warts are especially common in those who frequent communal areas while going barefoot. This would include swimmers, dancers, gymnasts, those who practice yoga or who are gym-goers using shared locker rooms. Those with weakened immune systems are also at higher risk of developing plantar warts.

Although anyone can get plantar warts, they are more common in children up to age 18. That’s because the immune system in young people is not as well-developed as it is in adults, and therefore young people are less able to combat the virus.

Plantar warts are very common, with over three million cases in the U.S. every year. While they can sometimes resolve on their own, they may require a visit to the podiatrist to diagnose and treat them.

What Does a Plantar Wart Look Like?

Plantar warts are often self-diagnosable. Here’s how to identify a wart. Look for:

Plantar wart illustration
  • A hard, rough, raised or flat lesion (growth), cauliflower type growth, usually appearing on the forefoot or the heel (less commonly, can also appear on the top of the foot). The wart can be single or in clusters, with varying size growths.
  • Pinpoints, which are black dots often called wart seeds. These aren’t actually seeds, but rather small, clotted blood vessels.
  • Tenderness or pain with weight-bearing (walking or standing)

Plantar warts are differentiated from other similar skin conditions, such as:

  • Corns, an accumulation of hard, thickened skin, are usually located on the tops and side of toes. Corns are painful via direct pressure, whereas plantar warts are painful with a side-to-side direction. Corns are commonly caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes.
  • Calluses, which can develop on the heels or balls of the feet, are caused by the development of excess skin and form from consistent rubbing or pressure to the area. While plantar warts can appear suddenly, calluses develop over time.
  • Intractable plantar keratosis (IPK) is a deep and painful callus on the bottom of the foot. Often confused with a callus, its cause is almost always anatomical due to a dropped metatarsal (causing pressure under the balls of the toes). The condition does not resolve on its own and needs treatment.
  • Flat warts are flat-topped smooth and light brown or yellow colored spots, usually small and located on various parts of the body. This includes the face, legs and back of the hands. Flat warts tend to be present in large numbers and are in most cases harmless and disappear on their own.

Treatment

While a doctor’s treatment is widely considered more effective, there are some home treatments for the condition.

An over-the-counter topical (cream or gel) salicylic acid, which when used over a period of weeks can dissolve the skin over the wart. Over-the-counter salicylic acid patches may work more quickly than the topical version. Some people also try covering the wart with duct tape.

However, these methods may only prolong the discomfort, especially if the wart(s) are large.  With painful or multiple plantar warts, it is best to have them medically treated.

The benefit of visiting a podiatrist is that warts can be evaluated and treated with a variety of proven therapies and solutions.

You should see a doctor if:

  • You are unsure whether you have a plantar wart.
  • Your wart is very painful.
  • Your wart(s) interfere with your activities.
  • You have tried self-treatment, but the warts don’t go away, or spread or return.
  • Your wart(s) bleeds or changes in appearance.

EUP Walk-In Wart Clinic

Essex Union Podiatry (EUP) is specially equipped to end the pain and discomfort of plantar warts. And now we make it easy. Come on in to our Walk-In Wart Clinic, with convenient locations and hours to serve you.

Our specialty-trained physicians use the latest techniques and tools to diagnose and treat plantar warts, as well as provide expertise in a wide variety of other foot and ankle conditions. We emphasize patient education and provide personalized care with a treatment plan tailored to meet your individual needs.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our podiatrists, contact us today.