A Corn Named Lister

Posted by on Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Dr. Joseph Lister was a 19th century doctor who fought for cleanliness in operating rooms back when surgeons were more likely to take a swig of Scotch during an operation than swab a wound with alcohol. I’m sure that when he finally won people over and began to  receive recognition for all he’d done, he was showered with honors. A statue here, a building named for Lister there, a commemorative stamp, a corn.

Wait, what–a corn? Yes, a corn.

Like on the cob? No, like on the foot kind of corn. Or toe, to be more precise.

That’s kind of yucky. Indeed it is, but nonetheless, we are here today to discuss the phenomenon known as a Lister corn.

Can you give me a rundown of corn basics? It’s been a while. Sure. When there is excess pressure or friction on an area of your foot, usually from shoes, your body produces another layer of skin to try to protect itself. This is a good idea at first, but as more and more layers of skin build up, more and more pressure is put on the bone, causing more skin to grow, until there is a noticeable bump which is even more vulnerable to pressure and friction. These are called corns; they’re generally found on the top, side, or in between your toes.

So what? Sounds like they just give my toes a nice suit of armor. Well, no–they hurt when you try to fit shoes over them. When you do get shoes on, the friction from the shoes can make them infected. When you wear open toed shoes that don’t rub on them, they are just plain ugly.

Okay, sold, I don’t want corns. What’s a Lister corn, though? A Lister corn is a very hard corn that usually forms on the outside or inside of the fifth, or small toe. Lister corns are unique because they can form because of the usual shoe pressure or without it.

Where do they come from if not from shoes? Do they spontaneously appear? No–they do actually come from pressure on the toe, but from the toe itself; many people have little toes that roll outward, so the corn forms because the toe is constantly rubbing against the ground. However they form, they’re not nice.

How do I know I have one? If you have a hard, thick bump on the inside or outside of your toe, that’s probably a Lister corn. Actually, they’re so hard that people often think they’re a second toenail or part of one big, oddly shaped toenail.

What do I do about them? Well, choose shoes with a roomy toe box that allows your toe to lie flat and where the material of the shoe won’t rub against the corn. Cover the corn with pads which can be found at any drugstore. If the corn developed because you have a problem with your toe rolling outward, a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) may suggest custom-fit orthotics to help take pressure off the toe.


For stubbornly recurring Lister corns on the inside of the little toe, a podiatrist can relieve pressure by doing a condylectomy, where they file away a part of the bone that’s rubbing on the ground. Patients can usually be fully on their feet and wearing shoes within a few days of this procedure. For recurring Lister corns on the outside of the little toe, podiatrists can perform a terminal Symes procedure, where they remove the distal phalanx, or small bone at the top of the toe, which is causing the trouble. Patients are usually on their feet and wearing shoes in a few weeks.

Now you know everything you could ever want to know about Lister corns, right?

Yes, I think so–well, how do I avoid them? If your problem comes from a toe that rolls outward or inward naturally, then you might not be able to avoid them. If that’s not the problem, then it’s up to you. Remember what we said about shoes with roomy toe boxes where your toes can easily lie flat? Well, that’s how you can avoid them. So the message again is: don’t wear stupid shoes!


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine LaiDr. Nadia Levy, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.

2 Responses to “A Corn Named Lister”

  1. Katherine says:

    I have always cut off my lister corn and it just grows back. I have been cutting it for years now its hurts but i still do it. I have never got an infection, but after i cut it down wearing sneakers hurts.

  2. Kaira says:

    This article helped me figure out what those little buggers were, thank you. I have pinky toes that roll outwards. But I’ve never had pain due to these Listers. I’ve used to pull the out using tweezers and a needle of some sort when I was younger just because I knew they were supposed to be there. That would bee the only time I”ve got pain from them is if they were rooted deep and so the wound is deep. But then the pain goes away and eventually the Listers come back. I haven’t pulled them out in a while and they’ve remained pretty small. I’ve never had pain while walking around in any sort of shoe unless it simply doesn’t fit me. Do you think I need to do anything about it if it’s not causing me problems. And what do you think are the chances it will cause me problems in the future?

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