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Plantar Warts

Reviewed by
Dr. Matthew Garoufalis

Warts on your feet—also known as plantar warts—usually appear near the pressure points on the soles of the feet, which are located in the heel and near the ball of your foot. There are two types of warts on feet: mosaic and solitary. Solitary warts tend to appear on their own, while mosaic warts display small clusters of smaller warts around one big wart.

Most warts on feet are 1 cm or smaller in diameter. They are transmitted from person to person, usually through direct contact, and are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). People of all ages suffer from warts on the feet, especially teenagers and athletes. Foot warts are most common in children and young adults under the age of 30. Warts are most easily transmitted in warm, moist locations such as locker rooms, swimming pools, and public showers. The virus enters the system by means of a small cut or open sore on your skin. Warts on feet are not cancerous, and usually do not need medical attention, although some warts can become painful, bothersome, and resistant to treatment.

Symptoms of a Plantar Wart

Symptoms of warts on feet include:

  • Pain when walking or standing
  • Itchiness
  • Thick skin in the area where the wart is developing, resembling a callus
  • Small, raised bump on the skin
  • Rough surface and clear borders
  • Appearance in clusters around a “mother wart”
  • Tiny black dots that appear on the surface of the wart

If you see the tiny black dots, do not panic. They are simply dried blood that is trapped in the capillaries (tiny blood vessels).

What Causes Plantar Warts?

Warts on feet are caused by direct contact with the human papillomavirus, or HPV. The virus enters your system through tiny cuts or breaks in your skin and causes some cells to grow more rapidly than normal. HPV is usually found in warm, moist places such as locker rooms, public showers, or swimming areas. Walking barefoot in any public place is another way to contract the virus. Like other infectious diseases, warts can be spread from person to person. If the wart itches and you scratch it and then shake someone’s hand or even flush a toilet, you are potentially passing the virus to another person.

Diagnosing Warts on Feet

Your podiatrist can easily diagnose warts. Warts have distinct features that distinguish them from corns and other growths found on the body. If you feel you need medical treatment, make an appointment with a podiatrist to help you with your plantar warts. He or she will create an appropriate treatment plan for you.

Treating Plantar Warts

Thankfully, there are many ways to treat warts on your feet. Not all methods of treatment work for everybody. Some warts go away on their own, while others need to be cured. It is important to seek medical attention if the warts are painful, because many over-the-counter medications are ineffective at penetrating the thick skin of a wart. Most people seek treatment for warts in order to prevent the spread of the virus or to minimize the pain. At-home methods may include salicylic acid, over-the-counter medication, or duct tape.

Self-treatment should not be attempted if you have any medical problems, particularly diabetes, poor circulation, or neuropathy. Self-treatment of warts can lead to infection or even amputation, in persons with these other medical conditions. If you are not certain that the lesion is a wart, you should have it checked by a podiatrist before attempting any self-treatment.

If these methods do not work, your doctor may suggest one of the following treatment options:

Cryotherapy: This is the art of freezing the wart off with liquid nitrogen. This method is usually effective, though it may be somewhat uncomfortable for a short time. The liquid nitrogen will cause a blister to form around the wart until the dead tissue falls off, which usually happens within a week or so.

Laser Surgery: Your doctor may use a laser to burn the wart off. Some types of lasers attack the red blood cells within the wart, causing it to die and peel off.

Minor Surgery: This is a popular way to remove warts. The patient may feel mild discomfort during the healing process, but normal activities can resume within weeks.

Topical Acids: There are advantages to using topical acids: they do not interfere with normal activities, nor is the healing process painful. Unfortunately, this method can take longer to treat moderate to severe cases, so other methods may be suggested.

Injections: Injections of prescription-strength drugs may be used to treat your warts. A solution is injected into the wart, causing it to fade away. This may cause a little discomfort for a short time.

Electrosurgery: This involves using an electric needle to cut away the wart or destroy it. This treatment is often done in one office visit.

Treatment may take several weeks, but there are no limitations on what you can do. For example, you will not need to take time off from work or school for most treatment options. If your warts are severe enough to require surgery, however, you may not be able to resume your normal activities for a few weeks.

Preventing Plantar Warts

There is no true way to prevent warts from developing, although there are several things you can do to reduce the risk, including:

  • Wear wooden or rubber sandals when using public pools, showers, or locker rooms.
  • Do not share towels.
  • Do not share shoes.
  • Do not scratch warts that have already developed; this may cause them to spread.
  • Watch for additional cuts or scratches, as warts are known to spread easily to these locations.

To prevent plantar warts from recurring, be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions for home care after treatment. Take precautions so you do not pass the virus on to others you come into contact with at home, work, school, or at the grocery store.

Complications of Plantar Warts

Here is a look at some of the possible complications warts on your feet can cause:

  • They may spread to other places on the body, such as face or genitals.
  • Scars may form where warts were removed.
  • Recurrence of warts after treatment.

You may also experience complications during the treatment process. If you have seen no results from treating the problem with an over-the-counter product, you should seek medical attention.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor about plantar warts:

  • Which over-the-counter products do you recommend most to your patients?
  • Based on my condition, how likely is it that I will need surgery?
  • How easily can my plantar warts spread to other parts of my body? What can I do to prevent that from happening?
  • How long should I wait before contacting you again if treatment does not seem to be working?
  • Can I pass the virus on to family members who share a shower with me?
  • What are the chances my warts will go away on their own?
  • Will a change in my diet prevent them from recurring?

Medical References:

  1. M. Beers "Merck Manual of Medical Information" 2nd home edition (Pocket Books, 2003) 1228-1229
  2. American Medical Association "Family Medical Guide" 4th Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2004) 121; 1060
  3. H. Winter Griffith, MD "Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery" (The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2006) 689

This page was last updated on February 13th, 2014

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