Plantar warts are a type of wart that typically develops on the soles of your feet. This wart usually is a harmless, skin growth caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Plantar warts may become painful when walking, however.
Physical characteristics. Look for plantar warts on the heels or balls of your feet. In its earliest stages, the plantar wart may look like a small dark puncture. As it grows, its surface will roughen and tends to become hard and flat, not raised or bumpy like warts found on your hand or top of the toe. Its edges will be defined. Plantar warts can vary in color, but most are brown or a brownish-gray. In the center of the plantar wart, you may see a black dot. These black dots are called wart seeds but “actually are small, clotted blood vessels,” states the Mayo Clinic.
Transmission. Although HPV causes plantar warts, not everyone exposed to the virus develops warts. Your immune system is unique to your body. Even if your parent or sibling reacts to HPV by developing warts, you may not. According to the Mayo Clinic, the strains of HPV that cause plantar warts are not highly contagious. Remember, however, that HPV does thrive in moist, warm environments. You should always wear flip-flops or other protective foot coverings when walking through locker rooms, especially in and around the shower and public swimming areas. If you have cracks or cuts in the skin on the bottom of your feet, you are more susceptible to contracting the virus.
Treatment. The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) does not recommend treating plantar warts at home. It cautions that over-the-counter treatments may be destructive to the healthy skin cells surrounding the wart. In addition, if you have an active infection or suffer from diabetes, cardiovascular disease or a circulatory disorder, skip the home treatment and seek help from a medical professional. Your doctor may remove the plantar warts with salicylic acid or by freezing it or by burning it off with an electrocautery treatment. In some cases, a laser treatment may be needed, states the National Institutes of Health.
Prevention. If your body is naturally prone to reacting to HPV, you can take measures to help reduce your risk of plantar warts. The best preventative measure is to limit your amount of barefoot walking, except on sandy beaches where the virus doesn’t thrive. Remember to avoid direct contact with warts from other parts of your body or from another person. You also should change socks daily and avoid sleeping in your socks. Always keep your feet dry and clean.
If you notice any strange growths, lesions or changes in the skin on your feet, consult your physician. Seek medical treatment if your warts are bleeding, painful, changing shape or color, or are showing signs of infection.