It’s not a pretty subject, but we need to talk about plantar warts, painful growths which appear on the soles of your feet (the plantar surface). There’s a lot of old wives tales about plantar warts, so first let’s clear up exactly what causes them.
Plantar Warts are noncancerous skin growths caused by the Human papillomavirus, HPV, which produces infections in skin or mucous membranes. While the majority of HPV’s (there are more than 120 identified) cause no symptoms in most people, some cause warts while other strains cause much more serious health problems. But that doesn’t mean if you get plantar warts you’ll necessarily develop any other conditions.
The HPV that causes plantar warts enters your body through tiny cuts, breaks or other vulnerable sites on the skin of your feet. The warts often develop beneath pressure points, such as the heels or balls of your feet.
“Plantar warts are almost unknown in habitually barefoot cultures and people. This is because walking barefoot for extended periods of time strengthens the skin and keeps it dry… While infection occurs in an estimated 7–10% of the U.S. population, plantar warts tend to affect only 0.29% of people who have never worn shoes” – Wikipedia entry on Plantar Wart
What do plantar warts look like?
A plantar wart is a fleshy, grainy lesion which may grow as large as one inch in circumference, sometimes described as resembling a cauliflower with tiny black spots. Pinpoint bleeding may occur when these lesions are scratched, and they may be painful when standing or walking. Plantar warts may also appear as a callus-like growth over a well defined “spot” on the skin when the wart is growing inward. This usually occurs on the parts of your foot under pressure from standing or walking, preventing the wart from rising above the skin surface. Multiple warts may also grow as a cluster, referred to as a “mosaic wart”.
Plantar warts may create the feeling of having a stone in your shoe and be tender or painful when walking or standing. More typically, pain is felt when pressure is applied from either side of the lesion, instead of the center. In severe cases, plantar warts can cause a change in gait or posture that results in leg or back pain.
How to prevent plantar warts
It may be counter intuitive, but the best way to avoid plantar warts is to go barefoot as much as possible at the appropriate times. Walking barefoot helps to build thick, protective skin on your soles and exposes them to friction when walking or running, which wears off or kills the virus.
The HPV strain that causes plantar warts thrives in the warm, moist environment offered by socks and shoes and the walking areas in public showers, saunas, or changing rooms (such as at the gym or public swimming areas). Wearing flip flops or sandals in these public environments is highly recommended. Also, let your feet dry completely before putting your shoes and socks on, and never share towels, socks or footwear. Each person’s immune system responds differently to HPV, so not everyone who comes in contact with the virus will develop plantar warts. Even people in the same family react to the virus differently.
Most plantar warts aren’t a serious health concern and may only last a month or two. In this case, they don’t require treatment. However, if plantar warts become painful, you should seek the expertise of a podiatrist for a treatment plan.