Plantar Warts and Running

Bottom of feet and a sad face drawn on one with plantar wart as one of the eyesHow’s this for a topic switch. Jacksonville amazingness to … warts. WARTS!

A couple of weeks ago I was walking around my kitchen and felt like I had a little pebble stuck to my foot. I brushed it off, but it persisted. Why is a pebble stuck to my foot? I wondered. I brushed it again, and again, and the stupid thing wouldn’t come off. This called for a visual inspection. I sat down, lifted my foot and I knew immediately what was going on. A plantar wart.

At first, I blew it off as a minor annoyance. I’ve had many warts over the years on my hands, one on my upper arm (weird!) and then a big one on a toe that took eight months of daily over-the-counter treatment to finally get rid of. This last one was over ten years ago, but none of them was ever more annoying beyond grossing me out a little. Oh, but plantar warts are different, particularly for runners. I learned this first hand, as the minor annoyance became a constant sharp and throbbing pain in my foot. It caused me to walk and probably run weirdly, which caused other things to hurt and – UGH! – right before we were scheduled to travel to Jacksonville!

Crud! 

Lest you think I’m a wuss, plantar warts can be as painful as any injury and can lead to actual injury. A real injury might occur from changing your gait to compensate for the pain. And, no matter how hard you try not to compensate, if you have a plantar wart that hurts, you will. When these suckers hurt, they HURT. They almost always grow in the padded areas of your foot, which gives them lots of room to grow nice and large. But the reason those areas are padded is because those are the parts that strike the ground. So every time you land on your affected foot, it’s like jamming a sharp stone into the same spot … over and over and over again.

What are the symptoms of plantar warts?

You feel like you have a rock in your shoe or stuck to your foot. Upon inspection, it looks like a callous but probably has a black dot or a few in the middle of it. If you look really closely, it is the most foul cauliflower looking clump of gross you ever saw (don’t worry, I’ll spare you).

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See the circle of weird skin, the callous looking thing with the black specks? That is a plantar wart. That’s MY plantar wart.

What are plantar warts?

HPV, baby! That’s Human Papilloma Virus. Well actually, they’re just a manifestation of one strain of HPV, another of which causes cervical cancer if you catch it doing the deed. Strains of HPV also cause common warts, like those on the hand and fingers, some cold sores, and even some cancers. A plantar wart is a wart growing in the padded areas of the bottom of the foot. You get one when the plantar wart strain of HPV gets in your feet via cracks in your skin and then voila! It makes your life miserable for a while.

Can I prevent them?

Yes! HPV likes warm moist environments, so always wear your shower shoes at the gym. Change your shoes and socks daily. Also, if you get a plantar wart, you can spread the virus around your feet so avoid touching it and definitely don’t pick at it! Ew! If you do have to touch your wart either do it with something disposable or wash your hands thoroughly after doing so.

If I have a plantar wart, how do I get rid of it?

They will go away on their own … in two to three years. Yeah, that isn’t going to cut it. And, of course, you can go to the doctor who can freeze it off, apply cantharidin or beetlejuice (yes, actual real live beetlejuice), or cut it out. Eek! But before going those routes, there are some things you can do on your own.

When I finally decided I needed to do something about my plantar wart, I did what anyone seeking an acute case of neurosis and hypochondria does: I googled it and came upon what appeared to be a blog post about running and plantar warts only to discover that it was a wart medication page disguised as a running blog. SHADY. (Remind me never to buy Wartrol.)

Ok. The blog route isn’t good for this particular problem, I quickly concluded. The next tactic in my war against the wart was to consult my favorite medical site. Screw WebMD; it’s all about the Mayo Clinic in my quest for self-diagnoses. The Mayo Clinic recommends three at-home remedies to try before seeking medical intervention.

1. Duct Tape.

Yep, for reals. This can take a few weeks, but apparently if you soak your affected foot in warm water for five minutes, then file down the wart with an emery board (pitch it when you’re done because it will have HPV all over it now). Then apply silver duct tape. Press it firmly and keep it on for six days. Then remove the tape and file it down again (throw away the emery board) and leave it exposed for 12 hours. Repeat if necessary.

2. Salicylic Acid

This is the standard over-the-counter plantar wart remedy. It’s an acid that comes on pads or in liquid you apply with a brush and causes the wart to peel off in layers. This method, like all good things in running, takes consistency, patience, and usually quite a while to see results.

3. Home Cryotherapy

You can now purchase home kits to freeze your warts off.  The medication purportedly causes the wart to blister and then fall out. Exciting! It’s very strong, so it’s only recommended to apply it once every two weeks for a maximum of four applications. If the wart isn’t gone after that, then seek medical assistance in getting rid of the darn thing. This medication is extremely flammable, so put out your smokes before applying. This is the method I chose to start with (after I gave up on the Angry Bird duct tape). I’ll let you know in a few weeks how it went!

Oh, and if I have a plantar wart can I keep running even if it hurts?

You won’t make your plantar wart worse by running on it, no matter how much it hurts. The biggest issue with continuing to run through this pain is that you will compromise your running form or foot strike which can cause an injury somewhere else. I found that ibuprofen helped if my wart was flaring up and that it often felt better later in the day than the morning. If it’s really bothering you and preventing you from running, then consider seeking treatment from a doctor even before you try home or over-the-counter remedies.

The last thing you want preventing you from achieving your big running dreams is a wart!

Have you even been afflicted with plantar warts? Share your story in the comments or tag us (@saltyrunning) in your plantar wart photos on Twitter or Instagram!

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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14 comments

    1. It is the most annoying of running impediments. Of all the gosh darn things to get in the way! But it could always be worse and it gives me lots of opportunities to make wart jokes 🙂

  1. ?? I’ve had one. I had it surgically removed b/c it was beyond painful. I feel your pain sista. Before surgery I tried EVERYTHING and that sucker came back. Good luck

  2. I have TWO right now- one on each foot up near my middle toes. For a long time I just thought they were callouses, but about a year ago realized they were not. I’ve been putting off dealing with them because I thought they would just go away. luckily mine don’t hurt too badly when I’m running- they hurt worse if I’m doing an activity where I have continued pressure on them, like the elliptical. I finally bought the home wart freezing kit over the weekend… but I don’t know if I did it right. SIGH. #runnerprobs

  3. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why one of my toes hurt when I ran. Then I finally discovered it was a wart causing it! I did a little home “surgery” and would just dig it out whenever it would reappear. It finally went away after a few months. I can’t advocate this method, but it is what my mom (a nurse) would always do lol.

  4. So we actually talked about plantar warts at clinic today! So in addition to the duct tape they recommend getting a pumice stone that you use ONLY for your wart, after every shower rub away at it, then dry it off and put the duct tape over it.

    The doctor I was with also said the home cryotherapy typically isn’t strong enough to get rid of warts, but I’ve found that the home salicylic acid-specifically the Dr. Scholl’s clear away works really well and if you put the little cushions over top of the medicated discs they help a lot with the pain.

  5. I am a plantar wart survivor! The one and only time I forgot my flip flops to shower at the gym… I believe that’s how I caught mine! I had no idea what it was for at least a month… And I ran on it for 5-6 months straight including 2 half marathons and a 25K. Finally had to quit running after at home treatments weren’t working and I was about one run away from an injury since it was beginning to affect my gait. Chemical treatments from the podiatrist didn’t work either. Finally had the sucker cut out by the podiatrist. Took 5 weeks to heal, but the pain is gone! Hallelujah! Like you, pain was worst in the morning, I would even wake in the night/early morning from “wart spasms”. Ibuprofen and ice helped a lot during those.

    1. I read this when first posted…because I had two on my left foot, one several years old. I currently have two holes to replace them – and a 5k tonight! I had them cut out last Thursday, and the doctor said I would be ready to run this week ? One feels fine, but the other is really tender underneath. I tried placing one of the little callous cushions around it, but I realized it’s not just the hole that is tender but a large area underneath. And yours took 5 weeks to heal? ?

  6. I had one that persisted on my heal for years (tried all the at-home tricks), didn’t really impede my running but when I was dealing with an injury on the same ankle the doctor recommended getting it treated in case it was affecting my stride. My dermatologist (who I really like) injected candida into the site and that is the only thing that worked! It was a newer treatment (this was about 4 years ago now I think) and she had said it could take up to 3 treatments but after the first one it went away! Just an FYI as an option for treatment. Good luck!

  7. OMG, a couple of yrs ago I had one. It didn’t even bother me that much, but about 2 weeks before a half I decided I should deal with it.

    I just used over the counter wart pads (whose main ingredient is salicylic acid) & it worked lime a charm . . . except for the fact it left a deep hole in my foot that DID hurt when I ran.

    Thankfully it did heal up before the half.

  8. I had a few suckers on the ball of my foot a few years back. After going through mountains of first-aid supply trying to pad them, I got them frozen off at the podiatrist (to no avail) and we finally settled on laser treatment and antivirals. Nasty little things!

    But pro-tip: if you do try to run, cut a little donut out of an old sock liner and put the hole over the wart. Secure with athletic tape (or duct tape) and voila!

  9. Thank you so much. For the treatment of plantar warts, you should take natural remedies and concern your doctor.

  10. When I was in college I had two that did not respond to being frozen off. My doctor surgically removed them once, but later discovered that they had not been entirely removed as they were deep. So I was put under and they were cut out again.

    Fast forward to now and I have another deep one. I see my podiatrist October 3rd and I am really hoping not to have to have it cut out. Post surgery was very painful and I had to wear a walking boot. It’s my driving foot which will make it impossible for me to do my hour drive to and from work.