Corns and calluses have been reported since the beginning of history. Hippocrates had a sound approach to corns and recognised the necessity to physically reduce the hard skin followed by removal of the cause. He invented skin scrapers for this purpose.
Celsus, Roman scientist and philosopher was probably responsible for giving corns their name. The largest corn ever reported was in 1677 a wheelwright by the name of Sarney who had a corn two inches long. To date no one has really been able to explain why some people develop them and others not. We know however, corns do not have roots (a popular misunderstanding) and this accounts for why there is nothing in a bottle or tube able to get rid of them.
The cells of the outer layers of skin increase their production when stimulated by external friction (heat) to the skin surface. This usually occurs by shearing stress and the culprit is often a tight shoe or rough sock. In the beginning corns and callous are self-inflicted lesions. Research indicates people have an enzyme within their blood supply which biochemically controls skin cell production. When the skin is damaged some people produce more skin cells than others. Occasionally hormonal imbalance due to menopause changes can in some cases result in the formation of thick horny skin cells or ichthyosis (fish scales). These changes are sudden and occur overnight.
Hard skin can be found on weight bearing areas including the heel, ball of the foot and tops of the toes. Soft corns usually appear in between the toes. Hard and soft corns really describe the same concentration of skin with soft corns being saturated in sweat. Due to poor self-treatment the composition of corns can vary with many incorporating blood vessels and some even trapping painful nerve endings. Fibrous corns present permanent changes to the skin which has become anchored to the bone beneath and bursitic corns occur on areas prone to heavy shearing stress. The prognosis for these skin lesions is poor and although much relief can be gained by regular visits to the podiatrists - there are no cures.
Most alternative treatments originate from the Dark Ages. Some of our ancient cures are so bizarre you cannot help wondering under what circumstances they were discovered. Popular corn remedies included pastes made from swine dung or charred willow. It was not uncommon for people to soak their painful corns in the gastric juices of a calf's stomach.
Prior to the Great Fire of London (1666) it was common place to advertise personal services such as the removal of corns through the medium of street cries. The lyrics were crude by modern jingle standards but often the tunes were composed by celebrated musicians. Orlando Gibbons was a prolific jingle writer. Best known for his madrigals and music for the Anglican Church he most certainly wrote music to accompany jingles to sell corn cutting. Gibbons eventually became the organist of the Chapel Royal, and was named virginals to the king, before becoming organist of Westminster Abbey. Gibbons never forgot his humble beginnings and composed a poignant fantasia for voices and viols based on the traditional cries of London street peddlers.
In Jonathon Swift's satire Gulliver's Travels, the hero admits to his rescuers he has a corn which he had cut off the foot of his Maid of Honour capture. It was about the size of a Kentish Pippen and so hard that he had it hollowed out in a cup and had it set in silver.
Swift J 1963 Gulliver's travels London : William Collins & Sons