Plantar Warts

By Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

Warts can be unsightly and hard to get rid of in some cases, and one of the most common types, plantar warts, are particularly troublesome. They usually appear on your feet, and thus are exposed to a lot of pressure and can be quite painful. What causes these mysterious growths, and can anything be done to prevent them? Let’s discuss some ways to avoid and deal with plantar warts, and hopefully learn a bit about the role of wellness and a strong immune system along the way.

What Are Plantar Warts?

Plantar warts, medically known as verruca plantaris, are one of several types of skin growths caused by viral infections from the human papillomavirus (HPV). Warts, officially referred to as verruca, are almost always benign (non-cancerous) in nature, and can be caused by any one of nearly 100 strains of HPV. Warts are a fairly common condition, thought to affect about 7-10% of individuals worldwide. There are three major types of warts: Plantar warts, found mostly on the feet; common warts, usually located on the face and hands; and venereal warts, found in the genital area. Plantar warts are sometimes hard to treat because they undergo a lot of irritation due to their location, and they can be spread quite easily. A small percentage of warts are precancerous, and a wart that does not heal or appears to be changing should be looked at by a physician to rule out malignancy.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Plantar Warts?

Other growths on the feet, such as corns or calluses can sometimes be similar in appearance to warts. How can you be sure a wart is a wart? Here is what to look for:

  • One of the most distinguishing characteristics of a plantar wart or any other type of wart is the presence of a black pinpoint(s) in the growth that is actually a small blood vessel that has clotted off. Warts always have a blood supply, and that is a great help at making a positive ID. Corns and calluses do not have a blood supply. Incidentally, the blood clots are not “wart seeds” that can spread the warts, as was once commonly believed. Warts are contagious, but they are not spread by “wart seeds.”
  • Plantar warts vary in appearance. They can show up as:
  • Fleshy bumps with a grainy texture, almost always found on the sole of the foot.
  • Flat growths that are rougher than surrounding skin and have a well-defined boundary.
  • They are often gray or brown in color.
  • Some plantar warts are harder to see, and are growths that interrupt the normal lines and structure on the skin of your foot.
  • Plantar warts range in size from tiny bumps to an inch or more in circumference. The larger ones are typically those that started out small and were never treated.
  • They usually start out as single growths, and if there is no intervention, they can develop into clusters of warts (called mosaic warts). Once they have clustered, they are much more difficult to eradicate, and mosaic warts can be very painful as well. They often make walking, running, or standing for extended periods of time very difficult.

What Causes Plantar Warts?

Warts, including plantar, are caused by a viral infection from HPV. In order to develop a wart, you must be exposed to the virus. It enters the skin through wounds, cracks or tears, and can then potentially produce an infection that results in warts after an incubation period of several months. That is the short answer to what causes warts. The bigger picture is that the presence of a wart, or any infection for that matter, is an issue of the immune system. A person with a strong, robust immune system will fight off most infections, even if exposed to the antigens. Others, with weak or compromised immune systems, tend to get an infection from every germ that comes down the pike. There are practical steps one can take to avoid contracting warts, and we will discuss these below. But the best way to prevent warts and all other infections is to make healthy and proactive wellness choices that bolster and nourish the immune system and the entire body. We are exposed to many antigens every day. The answer is not to meticulously avoid exposure, but rather to strengthen the weapons provided by our creator to fight off the “bugs” in our environment. We will discuss ways to strengthen your immune system below.

HPV is not a highly contagious virus, but it can be passed from person to person and it can spread from one part of your body to another. HPV flourishes in warm, moist environments, so it is often present in locker rooms, on shower floors, and in swimming areas. Obviously, public areas are a greater risk because of the number of different people who use them. The virus can be spread in several ways:

  • From person to person via direct contact with another persons skin.
  • From person to person via contact with shed skin from a wart or blood that has come from a wart. This might occur from sharing a towel or from contact on the floor.
  • To another place on your own body by scratching or picking at a wart, and then touching elsewhere. Sometimes plantar warts can spread spontaneously to other parts of the foot simply due to infected skin that sheds. This is particularly true for mosaic warts. This is one reason why it is best to keep an eye on warts. Many (over 60% according to some studies) will dissipate on their own without intervention, but if yours have a tendency to grow or spread, it is best to catch them early.

Be especially careful of areas on your feet that have broken or damaged skin. Such a situation makes it much easier for the offending virus to find its way under your skin. Other risk factors include multiple exposure to HPV, and, as we mentioned above, a weakened immune system. If your immunity is high, you can be exposed to viruses and never develop a wart. That is why families can share a shower area and some may get warts while others will not. In general, the younger you are, the greater your risk for getting plantar warts. Children and adolescents tend to have a bigger problem with warts than adults. The reasons for this are not fully known. It may have something to do with a typically higher exposure to public places such as school locker rooms and pools. It may also be related to the maturity, or the lack thereof, of their immune systems.

What Treatments Are Available for Plantar Warts?

There are numerous over-the-counter and prescription drugs available for the treatment of plantar warts. Warts are such a common problem that the pharmaceutical industry makes a small fortune off of remedies. Some work better than others, but they all involve the introduction of dangerous chemicals into your system that are toxic to one degree or another. I will briefly cover some of the most common ones, along with some other procedures that are surgical in nature that are also available as treatment options. Be aware that if you have certain medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or circulatory problems that you should be very careful about using any substance that deteriorates your skin. With such conditions it is easier to experience excessive tissue damage, and your body’s ability to heal from such wounds is diminished as well.

  • Salicylic acid: This is one of the most popular ingredients in many wart removal products. It is applied over time, and the acid eats away at the layers of skin and slowly destroys the wart. An abrasive such as a pumice stone is used between applications, and the whole process can take a month or longer.
  • Antigen injections: This remedy involves a physician injecting an infectious agent (often the mumps antigen) in order to stimulate the immune system to attack the warts. The idea is that if you have been immunized against mumps, as most people have been, that the procedure is harmless. I would stay away from introducing foreign substances such as this into your body. Surely there must be a better way, and as we shall see, there is.
  • Bleomycin: Injections with this powerful drug are sometimes recommended for stubborn cases of plantar warts. The medicine is supposed to kill the virus that is causing the warts. However, there are significant side effects associated with Bleomycin, and I would not go that route. Treatment can be painful, and itchy rashes can result.
  • Surgical options include cautery (extreme heat) or cryosurgery (extreme cold with liquid nitrogen), and more recently, laser surgery. These options can be quite painful and leave significant scarring.

The good news is that there are many more natural and less invasive remedies available for plantar warts. First of all, let’s bring some sanity to this whole thing. Most plantar warts are not dangerous, and if they are not interfering with walking or standing, it is probably best to just leave them be until they run their course.

If you do choose to remove them, here are a few better options than those offered by mainstream medicine:

Duct tape: Yes, it is true that you can fix just about anything with duct tape, including plantar warts. Studies have shown that duct tape therapy is even more successful than cryotherapy. Try covering the warts with duct tape for a week, then soaking them in water before using an abrasive such as an emery board. Repeat for as long as necessary, which is usually a couple of months or so. This is especially great for kids who are afraid of surgical options such as cryosurgery or cautery.

Excellent natural remedies include:

  • Onion, garlic, or tea tree oil applied to the warts.They are great antiviral agents.
  • Colloidal silver, applied topically and taken internally to boost the immune system.

Speaking of the immune system, the best way to “treat” plantar warts is to avoid the infections that cause them by bolstering your immune system. There are many steps that can be taken to accomplish this, but the best advice regarding immune system health is to eat whole foods, exercise, and drink lots of pure water. Consistent habits such as this will lead to a lifetime of health and wellness, which is the best remedy for all medical issues, including plantar warts.

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