Plantar warts are harmless, noncancerous growths that form on the soles of the feet. They are caused by a virus and are not a serious health concern but can be troublesome and sometimes painful. Plantar warts look like hard patches or bumps on the skin and often have a small black center. They can resolve themselves over time, but treatment is often needed to get rid of the wart. If at-home treatment does not work to remove the warts, contact a podiatrist to have the plantar warts treated professionally.
Causes of Plantar Warts
A plantar wart is caused by a microscopic virus called HPV or human papillomavirus. This virus can enter the body through cuts or breaks in the skin on the bottoms of your feet. It is common to pick up the virus by exposing the soles of the feet to warm, moist environments such as public areas around swimming pools, showers, gyms, or locker rooms. People of all ages can develop plantar warts. Those most at risk include:
- Those with a past history of plantar warts
- Those with a weakened immune system
Some people are more susceptible to getting warts than others. Not everyone who comes into contact with HPV will develop warts. You can become infected with a wart by sharing personal items with another person who has HPV or a wart. You can infect yourself by touching a wart on your foot then another part of your body. Plantar warts can be slow-growing, and they can be beneath the skin for months before they become noticeable.
Common Plantar Wart Symptoms
If you notice a bump-like growth on the bottom of your foot, it may be a plantar wart. Warts can come in a range of shapes and sizes. There are several common symptoms of plantar warts, such as:
- Growth with a rough, grainy texture
- Thickened skin over the growth forming a callus
- Black pinpoint spot in the center of the growth often mistakenly called the wart seed, but it is, in fact, a small, clotted blood vessel in the middle of the wart
- Pain when walking, standing, or applying pressure due to the wart growing inward into the bottom of the foot
The location of plantar warts can vary. Warts can form near the base of the toes, forefoot, or heel. They are usually found in areas of the foot where you bear the most weight. Warts can form as a single growth or grow in a cluster.
Diagnosing Plantar Warts
If you have symptoms of a plantar wart that do not go away or you are unsure what the growth may be, consult with a podiatrist for an evaluation. Diagnosing plantar warts is done by a physical exam, and your podiatrist can tell if the growth is a wart by its appearance alone. If the growth looks suspicious, a biopsy may be done to rule out other possible conditions.
Those with a weakened immune system, diabetes, or other serious health conditions should consult with a podiatrist before trying at-home treatment options. If you notice any of the following symptoms with your plantar wart, contact your podiatrist immediately:
- Changes in appearance or color
- Growth becomes red or hot to the touch indicating an infection
- Pain with daily activities
How to Prevent Plantar Warts
You can take certain precautions to reduce the risk of developing plantar warts or prevent having your existing wart spread to other areas of the body. We recommend taking the following precautions:
- Try to avoid contact with warts, and wash your hands if you touch one.
- Do not pick at warts, or they could spread.
- Wash your feet daily with soap, and be sure to dry them after.
- Change your shoes and socks daily and alternate shoes, so you give them time to air out between wears.
- Do not walk barefoot around swimming pools, in locker rooms, or in public showers. Protect your feet by wearing shower shoes or sandals in these areas.
- Do not use tools on your skin or nails that you have used on your warts. This includes pumice stones or nail clippers.
- If you are getting a pedicure, be sure that tools are properly sanitized and cleaned prior to using them on your feet.
- If you do have a wart, never shave or clip the area, or it could cause it to spread.
Plantar Wart Treatment Options
Treatment options depend on whether the warts are painful or spreading. Warts can often go away on their own. Some people may be bothered by the appearance of warts and want treatment. Over-the-counter products such as gels, lotion, or ointments containing salicylic acid are available and can be purchased at retail locations such as pharmacies, but they are often ineffective in clearing up warts.
There are a variety of treatment options that a podiatrist may recommend for plantar warts, such as:
- Freezing the wart using cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen to destroy the tissue
- Applying a prescription-strength medication called cantharidin on the wart then covering it with a bandage
- Administering a shot of medication directly into the wart
- Surgical removal of the wart using techniques such as curettage, electrosurgery, or laser surgery
Often treatment for the wart may not completely destroy the wart, and it could recur or spread to another part of the foot. This is due to the virus that caused the wart still being present in the body. Warts can be difficult to treat and may require more than one treatment.