Plantar Warts Overview

Feet being inspected.
Plantar warts, caused by the human papillomavirus, occur on the sole or toes of the foot. See more pictures of skin problems.
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From the second your tootsies hit the floor in the morning until you fall into bed from exhaustion late at night, your feet are on the move. With all that you do in a day -- early morning workouts, multiple office meetings and dinner and dancing -- you need your feet to be in top shape. However, plantar warts can stop you dead in your tracks.

What are these things, anyway? Plantar warts are rough, spongy growths of skin on the soles of your feet that often develop on weight-bearing pressure points. These include the heels or balls of your feet. They're normally gray, brown or yellow in color, with dark pinpoints. The visible part of the wart is only the tip of a much larger wart hiding beneath the skin's surface, which adds to the pain this type of wart can cause [source: Podiatry Channel]. As a result, plantar warts can turn an activity as simple as walking into a painful ordeal.


As plantar warts can take months or years to heal on their own, it's important to know how to treat them once they arise and how to prevent their development in the first place. Plantar warts are caused by a common virus, but if you know what to look for, you can avoid it and keep your feet feeling fine. If you're unlucky enough to already have a plantar wart, rest assured that there are ways to contain its spread -- both to other areas of your body and to family members. Most importantly, remember that plantar warts aren't permanent. With a few quick tips and tricks, you can banish that foot blemish and jump back into your normal daily routine.

In addition to learning about the causes and treatment of plantar warts, read on to discover if your workout could be putting you at risk.


Plantar Wart Causes

Plantar warts arise from direct contact with a strain of human papillomavirus (HPV). You may recognize HPV as the virus commonly associated with cervical cancer and genital warts. However, there are more than 100 types of HPV, some of which can cause plantar warts.

The virus enters the blood stream through breaks in the skin. In many cases, antibodies kill the virus on contact, but if this doesn't occur, warts can form on the weight-bearing parts of the feet. A plantar wart forms when the virus causes skin cells in the foot to multiply quickly, creating a thick, excess growth of skin [source: PDRhealth]. The virus may incubate between one to 20 months, so it can be hard to pinpoint the time or source of the infection [source: Cooper].


HPV thrives in warm, moist environments. Spaces such as shower floors, locker rooms and pools are all hospitable environments for the virus, so the mere act of walking on these surfaces with bare feet can cause plantar warts.

Once a plantar wart has developed, it can spread in several ways. Untreated plantar warts can spread on their own into wart clusters or grow to an inch (2.54 centimeters) or more in circumference. A person with plantar warts also can spread them to other areas of the foot by scratching or touching the wart. In addition, contact with any skin or blood shed from the wart may cause other warts to develop [source: Mayo Clinic].

Now that you know a virus causes plantar warts, you may be wondering if you can catch plantar warts from someone else. Read on to the next page for the answer.


Are Plantar Warts Contagious?

Are plantar warts contagious? The simple answer to this question is yes. However, you should take a deep breath and examine all the facts before you bust out the socks and solemnly vow never to go barefoot again. Plantar warts are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which, like all viruses, is contagious. It can spread from person to person or from a warm, moist environment to a human being.

That said, the strain of HPV that causes plantar warts isn't highly contagious, and it affects everyone differently. Often antibodies will kill the virus before it has the chance to cause the warts. Plantar warts are more common in people with cuts or open sores on their feet and in people with weakened immune systems [source: Mayo Clinic]. The highest occurrence of plantar warts is in children aged 12 to 16 years old, though plantar warts do appear in all age groups [source: Cooper].


Although the strain of HPV that causes plantar warts isn't particularly communicable, you shouldn't take chances. Simple preventive measures will allow you to further reduce your chance of developing plantar warts. The first is to avoid direct contact with a plantar wart -- even your own -- because you can spread it to other areas of your foot. Don't pick at warts, and don't use any tools such as pumice stones or nail clippers that have been in touch with a plantar wart. As a general practice, keep your feet clean and dry and try to avoid walking barefoot in public places, especially if you have any open cuts or blisters on your feet [source: Podiatry Channel]. Stashing a pair of flip-flops in your gym bag for the shower will considerably lower your chance of developing plantar warts.

Once a wart has developed, it's time to plan your attack. Learn how to eradicate a pesky plantar wart on the next page.


How to Get Rid of Plantar Warts

Because of their location, plantar warts can be extremely painful and difficult to cope with. Also, leaving plantar warts untreated may lead them to increase in size or to spread into a cluster of warts [source: Cooper].

The simplest in-home remedy for plantar warts is known as hyperthermic treatment, which involves soaking the affected foot in hot water for 90 minutes each day. It sounds easy, but the treatment requires lots of patience -- you may not see results for months. You can also apply the liquid from a capsule of vitamin A to the wart daily, which may eradicate it within one to nine months [source: Cooper]. Salicylic acid treatments available over-the-counter in the form of liquids, gels, pads or ointments also can help eradicate warts. Make sure that you periodically file the wart down and consistently clean your foot as you use these remedies. However, if you don't see improvement within one to two weeks, consult your doctor [source: Cooper].


The quickest way to kill a wart is to visit your doctor for treatment. The most common cure is cryotherapy, or freezing the wart with sodium nitride. This kills the virus that causes the wart; the wart itself will fall off in a few days. Laser treatment also kills this virus, but it's an expensive option that isn't widely used for plantar warts. Your doctor also may use a stronger acid to burn off the wart or a procedure called debridement that cuts the wart off your foot while you're under anesthesia. The latter treatment is a somewhat unappealing option because warts may regrow in the resulting scar tissue and worsen foot pain [source: Cooper]. Your doctor can provide details about the procedures he or she uses for plantar wart removal.

Plantar warts are a painful inconvenience, but appropriate treatment will put the spring back in your step in no time. For more information on plantar wart prevention and remedies, take a look at the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


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  • Cooper, Jeffrey S. "Plantar Warts." eMedicineHealth. (Accessed 8/5/09)
  • Ellin, Abby. "Communal Yoga Mats: Beware of Germs." The New York Times. 7/27/06. (Accessed 8/5/09)
  • The Mayo Clinic. "Plantar Warts." 5/02/09. (Accessed 8/5/09)
  • MedlinePlus. "Warts." 5/12/09. (Accessed 8/5/09)
  • PDRhealth. "Plantar Wart." (Accessed 8/5/09)
  • Podiatry Channel. "Plantar Warts: Plantar Wart Prevention." 5/14/09. (Accessed 8/5/09)
  • Shenefelt, Philip D. "Warts, Nongenital." eMedicine. 5/5/09. (Accessed 8/5/09)
  • VisualDXHealth. "Plantar Wart in Adults." 12/22/08. (Accessed 8/5/09)