Understanding Plantar Warts

Sole of foot showing plantar wart.

A plantar wart is a small noncancerous growth on the bottom of the foot. Plantar warts often develop where friction or pressure occurs, such as on the ball of the foot. The word plantar refers to the sole of the foot. Similar warts can occur on other areas of the body such as the hands. Plantar warts are more common in children and young adults.

What causes a plantar wart?

Plantar warts are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV).

They can be spread by person-to-person contact. Or you can develop one if you walk barefoot on moist surfaces infected with the virus, such as in a community pool area or locker rooms. Wearing proper footwear in such places can prevent them.

What are the symptoms of plantar warts?

Plantar warts cause a thick patch of skin on the bottom of the foot. The wart may have black dots on it. These dots are dried blood. The wart may cause pain or discomfort. You may also have trouble walking because of the pain.

How are plantar warts treated?

Many plantar warts go away without any treatment. But for those that are painful or that don’t go away, several treatments are available. These include:

  • Salicylic acid. This treatment is applied directly to the wart. It may come in the form of a liquid, ointment, pad, or patch. It is available over the counter.

  • Cryotherapy.  Your healthcare provider puts liquid nitrogen on the wart with a cotton swab. This treatment can be painful.

  • Duct tape. One study shows a benefit by putting duct tape on the wart for 6 days. You then soak the wart and scrape it with an emery board. This is repeated until the wart is gone or for 2 months. Other studies show this does not work well to remove the wart.

  • Medicine. A variety of medicines can be put on or injected into the wart. But research is mixed on how well they work.

Often your healthcare provider will cut away dead parts of the wart before also using one of these other treatments.  

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider if you have plantar warts that become too painful and do not go away on their own or with over-the-counter and at home treatments.