What is a plantar wart?
A plantar wart is a wart that occurs on the toes or the sole of the foot. Plantar warts are caused by the verruca vulgaris virus, a common viral infection of the skin. You can get warts anywhere on your body, but when they are on the bottom of your feet, they’re called plantar warts because the bottom of your foot is known as the plantar section. This condition is more common in children than in adults.
Some people believe plantar warts have seeds or roots that grow into the skin and attach to the bone. Plantar warts may have the appearance of roots or seeds, but these are actually just a cluster of warts beneath the skin. The warts aren’t attached to the bone, because they can only survive in skin tissue.
Causes of plantar warts
A plantar wart occurs from direct contact with the verruca vulgaris. It is not a bloodborne or airborne disease. Moist, sweaty feet are at higher risk for picking up the virus, especially in public showers and around swimming pools. The virus is not highly contagious, but can thrive long enough in these ideal conditions to attach to a vulnerable foot.
Plantar wart prevention
You can take measures to prevent plantar warts by avoiding direct contact with unclean floor surfaces:
- Regularly clean your shower and tile floors
- Wear flip-flops in public showers and when walking around public pools
- Avoid sharing shoes or socks with other people
- Clean and dry your feet immediately following physical activities
Warts appear thick and scaly, sometimes clustered or existing as one single wart. Because of their rough appearance, they are often confused with calluses.
One way you can tell the difference is to pinch the area in question. If you experience a sharp, stinging pain, it’s likely that you have a plantar wart. Plantar warts are also sometimes confused with porokeratosis and inclusion cysts. Your podiatrist will be able to determine the condition of the area in question with higher accuracy.
Treatment of plantar warts
Over-the-counter methods of treating plantar warts are typically ineffective because it’s too difficult for them to penetrate the thick skin on the bottom of the foot. Depending on the severity of your plantar warts, your podiatrist may recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- Removing with surgery: This method has the highest success rate with the lowest possibility of the wart returning. The drawback is that surgery leaves the previously infected area sore for a couple of weeks following the procedure, and the area is at risk for infection and scarring.
- Burning the wart: This method uses a topical acid, which has to be applied numerous times throughout the period of treatment. This method is painless and non-restrictive, but has a low success rate.
- Freezing the wart: This method uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart, slowly killing off the virus. This method can be painful, and can take up to a couple weeks to heal.
- Removing with laser: This method is similar to surgical removal. Unless the warts are large or clustered, laser removal doesn’t offer any real advantages over surgical removal, and comes with the same risks for infection and scarring.