Plantar warts are small, painful skin growths that develop on the sole of the foot, especially on weight-bearing areas, like the heel. Sometimes, blood vessels, which look like tiny black dots, appear on the wart’s surface.
Plantar warts develop when the skin becomes infected with a wart-causing virus known as human papillomavirus. This infection, also called HPV, not only causes plantar warts but all types of warts, from genital warts to cutaneous warts.
Plantar warts can grow as a single wart or a cluster of several small warts, called mosaic warts. The single wart can also spread to other parts of the foot.
A plantar wart can be mistaken for a callus because it causes the skin to form tough, thickened, callus-like tissue. However, with a callus, the skin lines will remain visible; in contrast, a plantar wart will interrupt the skin lines. These warts can also be distinguished from a callus because they are usually round and flatter than a callus. Additionally, plantar warts usually cause foot pain while calluses do not.
Plantar warts can sometimes be avoided by knowing the risk factors. First, it's important to know that the infection occurs when the foot comes in direct contact with the human papillomavirus. This can happen when going barefoot in places where other people with the HPV virus have been, like a public shower, swimming pool deck, or locker room. Wearing shoes or flip-flops in these places can go a long way in reducing the risk of developing plantar warts.
Home Treatments and Self-Care for Plantar Warts
Plantar warts are common, especially in children and young adults. Many times, they go away without treatment or can be treated at home. If you try one wart treatment and it does not work, don't be discouraged; you may need to try a few different methods before you find one that is helpful for you. Here are some common wart treatments:
- Duct Tape: Duct tape can be placed over the wart for about one week. After the duct tape is removed, soak the affected foot in warm water, then gently use a clean emery board or pumice to remove the unhealthy tissue.
- Medication: Try an over-the-counter topical wart remover with salicylic acid, such as Compound W®, to treat warts. You will need to apply the medication regularly, and you can expect the treatment to take several weeks or longer. Salicylic acid treatments can be used on most warts caused by the HPV virus.
- Pads and Patches: The plantar wart can be cushioned using a donut-shaped felt or moleskin patch purchased over the counter. The pad can be placed around the wart so it relieves pressure and foot pain. Pads can also be placed inside shoes to help reduce any painful symptoms. This home treatment can often be very effective in reducing symptoms of foot pain caused by plantar warts.
How a Doctor Can Help: Plantar Wart Treatments
If your plantar wart symptoms are severe and all other treatment options and medications have failed to improve this skin condition, a podiatrist or foot doctor can offer outpatient surgical treatments, such as:
- Cryosurgery: This surgical procedure uses liquid nitrogen to destroy the wart. It is likely that it will require several sessions for complete removal of the plantar wart. A doctor may also prescribe a salicylic acid medication to apply at home following the treatments.
- Laser Treatment: Used less often than other treatments, laser surgery may also be an option. Like cryotherapy, it will require repeated treatments to completely destroy the wart.
- Surgical Excision: Although this is typically used only when all other treatments have failed or if other treatments are not well-tolerated, a doctor may recommend surgical removal of the plantar wart. Instead of using a laser, a scalpel is used to cut the wart to remove it from the foot. Treating the wart in this way may cause a scar to develop.
Keeping You in Motion at Lakeshore Bone & Joint Institute
Our specialty-trained podiatrists, Marc S. Bruell, D.P.M., Rachel L. Stern, D.P.M., Brian T. Damitz, D.P.M., Ronald E. Izynski, D.P.M., and Aaron K. Ruter, D.P.M., can diagnose and treat your plantar warts. Our podiatrists also provide any follow-up care you may need to maintain your foot health. While it may be possible to use nonsurgical treatments for your condition, if surgery is required, our doctors can expertly perform the procedure that is required.
To schedule an appointment with one of our experienced podiatrists, please call (219) 921-1444 or request an appointment online.