Plantar warts are a type of skin growth or condition that occurs on the bottom (also known as the plantar side) of the foot. These growths are considered to be non-cancerous and are caused by viral infections. They most often occur on the ball of the foot or on the heels.
Plantar warts often feel hard or grainy. They may even grow inward causing calluses. They are specifically caused by HPV (the human papillomavirus). HPV has many different forms and the form that causes plantar warts is not the same as the virus that causes genital warts or even warts elsewhere on the body. HPV does not always cause plantar warts and as such, contracting the virus does not necessarily mean that a person will suffer from plantar warts.
Oftentimes, one of the first signs of plantar warts is pain or discomfort while standing or otherwise putting pressure on the foot. It can sometimes feel as though the person has a stone or pebble in their shoe that will not go away. Warts may occur anywhere on the sole of the foot and can occur individually or in large clusters resembling a mosaic. Plantar warts also may have black dots in the center, distinguishing them from other foot ailments.
This infection in the skin affects the outer layers of the bottom of the feet. The condition begins with HPV infecting the skin through small cuts and other breaks in the skin. It can also enter through weak areas in the skin on the soles of the feet. There are a few strains of HPV that can cause these warts. People have different reactions to exposure to these strains, and not everyone infected by it will develop plantar warts. These HPV strains are not very contagious, so transmission from one person to another isn’t common. The virus lives in moist, warm places, so it’s common to catch an infection from the floors of locker rooms and near swimming pools. People with a history of plantar warts, those who have compromised immune systems and young people are at a higher risk of developing this infection.
More often than not, plantar warts will clear up without any treatment. However, when the warts do not clear up or they cause serious pain or discomfort, there are treatment options. A physician can lance off the top of the warts and then apply a medicated dressing. Cryosurgery (freezing off the warts) is also an option for treating plantar warts. Salicylic acid is a chemical treatment option that can remove plantar warts. Laser treatments, other (stronger) chemicals, and other surgeries may also be useful in treating plantar warts. Physicians will often try to us the least invasive procedure possible to resolve the issue.
Because certain HPV strains are the cause of plantar warts, the only way to prevent this infection is to avoid coming into contact with the places it thrives. If someone else has plantar warts, avoid touching them. Never share shoes with anyone else. Other items that can transmit this virus are socks, razors, towels and bath mats. Even if you don’t see plantar warts on someone, they may be infected and able to transmit the virus. In areas where the virus may be living, such as the areas around swimming pools, locker rooms and hot tubs, never walk barefoot. When showering in shared bathrooms, use shower shoes. Because HPV loves moist environments, make sure your feet stay dry. For those who sweat heavily, wearing moisture-wicking socks can keep feet from staying moist. Keep feet healthy and avoid irritating the skin. Skin that has been injured is much more likely to develop a HPV infection.