Alien Invaders: Plantar Warts

Web Feet is a quarterly blog posted by Registered Chiropodist David Murphy. Dave has ten years’ experience in his field and works at Kawartha Total Foot Care Centre’s main clinic in Bobcaygeon, Ontario as well as the practice’s sites at Lakefield Physiotherapy & Foot Health Clinic and the Curve Lake First Nation Health Centre.


One day you’re taking your socks off and quite accidentally you notice a raised, hard, and rough area on the sole of your left foot. You wonder if you might be developing a corn or a callus. A few days after that you check again and ask yourself, “Is it getting bigger?” Several days later you swear that you see black dots forming under the skin. You begin to wonder. A little more time passes, and with some trepidation you inspect your foot once more only to find that the area is definitely getting larger, and it’s even beginning to take on the appearance of… cauliflower! To make matters worse, there appears to be another one beginning to form on your heel that’s really beginning to hurt. And wait! What’s this on the ball of your right foot?

Fearing that your feet have become the stuff of a science fiction-like alien invasion, you fumble nervously through the phone book to find the number of your nearest Chiropodist to book an appointment to either solve this mystery or send a sample off to NASA for further investigation.

On inspection of your feet, your Chiropodist reassures you that there’s no need to call in NASA, but that you’re not far off the mark suggesting an alien invasion. The unwelcome invader’s name is the papilloma virus. Diagnosis? A case of plantar warts.

Papilloma thrives in warm, moist places (like shoes and socks, swimming pools, locker rooms, public showers, and hotel bathrooms and carpets). People with diabetes or diseases that compromise their immune systems are particularly susceptible to developing warts. Once established, plantar warts can be very stubborn invaders, and, yes, if left untreated they are liable to spread on one or both feet, to other parts of the body, or to other people.

Ways to Prevent Plantar Warts

As with most health problems, prevention is the best medicine. Thorough washing with soap and drying of feet along with good cleaning and sanitization practices on surfaces prone to hold the virus will help prevent infection and re-infection. Never share someone else’s footwear. Even more importantly, always wear protective shoes, sandals, or slippers in public areas such as public swimming pools, locker rooms, and hotel rooms that are at high risk of holding the virus.

Treating Plantar Warts

Although many people try off-the-shelf remedies first, it’s best to see your chiropodist for a proper diagnosis. Warts, corns, and other skin lesions are often confused, and we recently saw a patient at the clinic who had been treating a foreign body lodged in the foot for years with an off-the-shelf wart treatment. Your chiropodist is better equipped to diagnose and treat plantar warts most effectively using a range of approaches that will vary depending on the location, severity, and duration of infection.  Importantly, people with diabetes should never use off-the-shelf wart remedies since the the caustic chemical damages tissues and can lead to serious complications like ulcers and bacterial infections. Some plantar warts can be painful, and so your Chiropodist may also provide temporary cushioning devices to “offload” pressure areas of your foot until treatment is complete.

During and after treatment for plantar warts it is important to always wear clean, dry shoes, socks, panty hose, and the like. Also remember that old footwear items must either be thoroughly sanitized or discarded or else re-infection is likely to occur.