What Are Plantar Warts—And How Do You Treat Them?

Warts on your feet can be painful. Here's what you can do to get rid of them quickly and prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Warts, no matter how common they are, still have the power to make us feel self-conscious. They can also be uncomfortable and painful. Most of us, at some point in our lives, will get these small bumps on our knees, elbows, or hands.

Plantar warts might be one of the more frustrating types since they appear on the feet. They might make you shy about indulging in a pedicure or sporting open-toe shoes.

Here's what to know about plantar warts and their cause. Plus, you'll get tips and pointers on treating and preventing these unpleasant bumps.

Close up photo of plantar wart on foot

Konstantin Aksenov/Getty Images

What Are Plantar Warts?

Plantar warts appear on your feet. "Plantar" means the sole of your foot; it's what you "plant" on the ground when you walk. The sole of your foot is where you are most likely to find plantar warts, but not the only place. Plantar warts can occur anywhere on the foot.

If you've had one before, you know that a wart can hurt. It can also make walking and standing painful. Warts on the heel and ball of the foot can be especially sensitive because this is where a lot of pressure is applied.

Plantar warts come in two types: solitary and mosaic. A solitary wart is one wart by itself. It may grow in size and multiply. (When it multiplies, satellite warts form around the original wart.) Mosaic warts are a group of warts growing together in one area. They are more challenging to treat than a solitary wart.

Plantar warts may eventually go away on their own. Still, people usually prefer to have them treated right away.

plantar-warts-heel
BSIP/Getty Images

What Causes Plantar Warts?

Plantar warts develop when the body comes in contact with a virus that the immune system can't entirely fight off. The culprit is a strain of human papillomavirus (HPV), and while many strains of the virus exist, those that cause warts on the feet are not the same HPV strains that cause genital warts.

Since a virus causes them, warts can be passed from person to person. For example, if you have a plantar wart (with a small nick in it) on the bottom of your foot and are exercising barefoot, the virus can transfer to the gym mat or floor. The next person to come along with bare feet will also be at risk for developing a plantar wart.

If you go barefoot, you can pick up plantar warts from just about anywhere:

  • At a yoga studio or gym
  • From public pool decks
  • In locker rooms or shared shower rooms

Plantar warts are most common in children, adolescents, and older people.

Plantar Wart Treatment Options

Plantar warts will probably go away on their own, especially in children. In adults, they may take a little longer to disappear. Even though most warts are harmless, they can be treated either at home or by a dermatologist.

At-home Remedies

Many times, you can treat warts by yourself. You can purchase over-the-counter fixes like salicylic acid in a store and apply them at home. Salicylic acid comes in gel, liquid, or plaster (pad) form. Make sure to follow the instructions for whatever product you choose. (Try: Compound W Salicylic Acid Wart Remover)

You may have also heard that putting duct tape on a wart will eliminate it. The science doesn't fully support this but doesn't entirely refute it. It may be worth a try, but there is no guarantee duct tape will solve your problem. Despite the claim that duct tape can fix anything, salicylic acid will be a better bet.

Be aware that warts can look like other skin conditions. You'll want to see a healthcare provider in the following situations:

  • You don't think the growth is a wart.
  • The wart is on your face or your genitals.
  • You have a lot of warts.
  • You have warts that hurt, itch, burn, or bleed.
  • You have a weakened immune system.
  • You have diabetes. If you have diabetes, do not attempt to treat the wart at home because you can cause lasting nerve damage. Have a healthcare provider treat the wart for you.

Medical Treatment

You should seek medical treatment if your wart is not going away, your wart hurts, or you have multiple warts. There are many types of treatment healthcare providers may prescribe. The type will vary based on your age, overall health, and the type of wart.

  • Cantharidin: This medication can be "painted" on the wart. It causes a blister to develop under the wart. After about a week, the wart should be dead, and a dermatologist can remove it.
  • Cryotherapy: This therapy involves freezing the wart. It is the most common treatment for common warts. It's not too painful, and often multiple treatments are needed.
  • Electrosurgery and curettage: A dermatologist uses a special tool to burn off the wart (electrosurgery) or a sharp instrument to scrape it off (curettage). Sometimes dermatologists use a combination of both procedures.
  • Excision: A dermatologist cuts out the wart.

Stubborn warts that are hard to treat may require a different approach.

  • Laser treatment: This type of treatment may be an option for warts that did not respond well to other therapies.
  • Chemical peels: A dermatologist prescribes these peeling medicines, but you apply them at home. It's basically a combination of salicylic acid (stronger than the nonprescription kind you can buy), tretinoin, and glycolic acid.
  • Bleomycin: This is actually an anti-cancer medicine. The shots may hurt and cause other side effects.
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment ramps your immune system to fight off the virus better.

We don't have a cure for virus that causes warts. That's why warts can come back in the same spot as before or in a new one.

plantar-warts-toe
Media for Medical/Getty Images

How To Speed Up Healing

When it comes to skin conditions, plantar warts are super transmissible, which means they can spread easily. So, you shouldn't leave warts exposed. Covering them helps prevent the virus from spreading to other parts of your body and other people. Also, washing your hands after touching the wart can help prevent warts from spreading.

Avoid shaving over a wart. You don't want to put any microtears on your skin from shaving. Microtears make it easier for the virus to spread.

Wear footwear that causes you the least amount of discomfort. It's best to avoid tight-fitting shoes, high heels, and shoes that have little cushioning.

Keep your feet dry when possible. HPV does well in warm, moist environments. When your skin is moist and soft, you're more likely to get infected with HPV.

For the same reason as above, people who have excessive sweating, a condition known as hyperhidrosis, should get proper treatment. All that damp, moist skin from lots of sweating may increase the risk of getting infected with HPV.

How To Prevent Plantar Warts

Again, plantar warts can spread easily to other body parts or someone else if you're not careful. Here are some tips on how to help prevent getting a wart in the first place:

  • Don't touch someone else's wart. The virus that causes warts is contagious, and you can become infected.
  • Wash your hands. Washing your hands often makes a big difference because HPV is everywhere. When you wash your hands, you're helping to remove HPV from your skin, and you're less likely to get warts.
  • Don't let your skin get dry and cracked, either. Cracked skin provides a point of entry for the virus.
  • Clean and cover any cuts or scrapes. This will help prevent the virus from getting inside your body if you encounter it.
  • Don't bite your nails or cuticles. As you may have guessed, the sores and tears in the skin caused by nail-biting make it easier for the virus to get inside your body.
  • Don't share towels, washcloths, razors, nail clippers, socks, and other personal items.
  • Wear appropriate footwear. Flip-flops are a good option if you are in moist areas. This includes piers, docks, pool decks, and public showers. Nonslip socks may work well for certain activities at gyms and fitness studios.

It can also help to keep your shower, bathtub, and bathroom clean and disinfected. Tried-and-true Lysol can kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria.

A Quick Review

Warts can be uncomfortable and painful, making us feel self-conscious. Fortunately, you can minimize your risk for plantar warts by practicing the tips in this article. In addition, over-the-counter medications and at-home remedies can help get rid of plantar warts. You should see a healthcare provider if you have a painful plantar wart or are unsure if it's a wart.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Foot Health Facts. Plantar wart (verruca plantaris).

  2. Al Aboud AM, Nigam PK. Wart. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. Warts: diagnosis and treatment.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology. Warts: tips for managing.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology. How to heal warts more quickly and prevent new ones.

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