What are plantar warts?
Plantar warts are small, ‘fleshy’ growths on the sole of the foot—the plantar surface. Plantar warts are not cancerous, but they are contagious. They are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus), which can spread through tiny cuts or breaks in the skin. The virus infects the outer layers of the skin causing rough or grainy lesions. Verruca plantaris is the medical name for plantar warts.
Plantar warts usually appear on the heel, forefoot, or base of the toes. Because these areas are weight-bearing, the pressure can cause plantar warts to grow inward. They can also develop a hardened layer of skin—or callus—over them. Plantar warts grow slowly and may or may not be painful or bothersome.
There are two types of plantar warts:
Solitary plantar warts are exactly as the name implies—a single wart. As the wart grows, it may form smaller ‘satellite’ warts.
Mosaic plantar warts occur in clusters and can be more difficult to treat.
Children and older people are more likely to get plantar warts. They also tend to strike those with weakened immune systems and people who have had them before. Like other contagious foot conditions, you can protect yourself by not going barefoot in public spaces, such as locker rooms.
Plantar warts often go away on their own without any treatment. This is especially true for children. In adults, they may remain for long periods of time. If they become bothersome, you can try over-the-counter plantar wart treatments. Warts that persist despite treatment or that recur may require more aggressive treatment from your doctor. This includes plantar wart removal.
Plantar warts are usually not serious. If they are painful, shoes can be uncomfortable and you may subconsciously alter your stance or gait (how you walk). This can cause joint and muscle problems over time. If you have certain medical conditions, you should see a doctor promptly for a plantar wart. This includes:
What are the symptoms of plantar warts?
Plantar warts are flesh-colored growths or lesions on the soles of the feet. They tend to grow on areas of the sole that bear weight. This pressure can cause the wart to grow inward and appear flat. Flat wart lesions may only be noticeable because they interrupt the normal print lines on the bottom of the foot. Plantar warts can also be rough or look grainy.
Common symptoms of plantar warts are:
Black dots, which are small clots that form as the wart grows deeper. People commonly call these dots wart seeds.
Feeling like something is in your shoe
Pain or tenderness, especially when walking or standing. You may also feel pain when you squeeze the wart.
Thickened, hard skin over the wart, which looks like a callus. However, a callus will not be painful when you squeeze it.
If you aren’t sure whether a lesion is a wart or not, see your doctor for a diagnosis.
What causes plantar warts?
HPV (human papillomavirus) causes all types of warts, including plantar warts. You can get HPV infections through small cuts and breaks in the skin. HPV spreads through direct contact with the virus. Once you have a wart, you can spread the virus to other places, such as the hands, through touch. Warts can also spread from person to person by touching the wart or sharing items that touched the wart.
There are many different strains of HPV. The one that causes plantar warts is not the same as the one that causes genital warts or cancer. Plantar warts are not a threat to your health the way HPV infection of the reproductive tract is.
What are the risk factors for plantar warts?
Anyone can get plantar warts. However, not everyone has the same susceptibility to them. Some people can come in contact with HPV and not develop warts. People at increased risk for getting plantar warts include:
Children, teens and elderly people
Those who have had plantar warts in the past
Those with weakened immune systems or who need drugs that suppress the immune system
Reducing your risk of plantar warts
The HPV strain that causes plantar warts likes warm, moist places. This includes areas like public showers, locker rooms, and swimming pools. To prevent plantar warts, wear shower shoes, flip-flops, or swimming shoes in these environments. Then, keep your feet clean and dry.
You can also lower your risk by not touching anyone’s warts and not sharing items, such as towels. Don’t pick at warts either to avoid spreading them. If you get pedicures, be sure the salon follows disinfecting guidelines. Wash your hands and feet with disinfectant soap if you think you have come in contact with HPV.
How are plantar warts treated?
Most plantar warts will eventually go away on their own. In adults, this process can take a very long time. If warts are bothersome, painful or spreading, there are over-the-counter (OTC) plantar wart treatments you can try. OTC products either freeze or peel away the wart over time. It can take regular use over the course of many weeks to get rid of the wart.
For persistent or recurrent warts, your doctor may recommend the following plantar warts treatments:
Cryotherapy using liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart
Laser treatment to burn away the wart
Prescription-strength acids to peel away the wart. This can be a home-based treatment with a stronger concentration than OTC plantar wart peeling treatments. There are also acids doctors use in the office. The peeling treatments are not painful, but repeated applications are necessary to get rid of plantar warts and any satellite warts. Follow the package or your doctor’s instructions.
Surgery to remove or destroy the wart
Even office-based procedures often require follow up steps at home. They also typically require more than one treatment or a series of treatments. It’s important to follow through with the entire course of treatment to prevent warts from returning.
Home remedies for warts are largely unproven. Never try to cut or remove a wart yourself.
What are the potential complications of plantar warts?
Plantar warts do not pose a serious health threat. However, they can cause pain and discomfort. In some cases, this can cause you to change the way you stand or walk to accommodate. This, in turn, can end up causing joint and muscle pain or discomfort. See your doctor if warts are causing pain that interferes with your ability to walk or stand normally.