Plantar Warts: Prevention is Worth a Thousand “Cures”

Photo Credit
Happyfeet34. Some rights reserved.
Margaret Boyles

Plantar warts are a common, frustrating problem, even with children. It's better to prevent plantar warts or wait them out than try to cure them. 

This is how the symptoms start . . .

For a few weeks, I’d been complaining of a growing tenderness on the ball of my left foot. The tenderness gradually became real pain, until every footfall felt as if I were slapping the sore spot down over a small stone.

One day after a bruising long run, I pulled off my sock to show my running partner the spot, which had become a thick, white patch of rough skin that looked a bit like a tiny cauliflower floret punctuated by a pattern of small holes.

“Oh, that’s a plantar wart,” she said. “You probably picked it up in the YMCA shower room.”

So began my long relationship with plantar warts.

To get a sense of what (sort of) happened as my relationship progressed, check out Willie’s Wart before you move on. (For the second line, substitute “Under his big toe,” and for all the physician-assisted wart-removal treatments, substitute the word “I”)

A few facts about plantar warts

  • All warts are caused by one or another of the more than 150 strains of human papillomavirus (HPV).  
  • Plantar refers to the sole of the foot, though plantar warts may appear on the heel, toes, or around the toenails. The same virus can also appear on the palm of the hand or around the fingernails, in which case it is called a palmer wart.
  • Experts say the HPV strains that cause plantar warts don’t cause the more-concerning genital warts.
  • Plantar warts aren’t malignant, and they don’t cause cancer.
  • Plantar warts are contagious. Shaving, scraping, or picking at them can transfer the virus to other parts of the feet and hands. They can also be transmitted by the shoes and socks of someone with warts.
  • Plantar warts are rarely painful, and usually disappear on their own in people with healthy immune systems.

Preventing plantar warts

  • Don’t go barefoot in locker rooms, public showers, or on the tiled areas around swimming pools (public or private), hot tubs, wading pools, etc. Wear flip-flops or sandals.
  • Don’t try on other people’s shoes (including shoes in a thrift store) without socks or nylon stockings.
  • Don’t share towels, razors, nail clippers, pumice stones, or emery boards.
  • Avoid direct contact with your own or other people’s warts. This really does include your own warts. Wash your hands thoroughly if they come in contact with a wart.
  • Don’t pick at your warts, as this may spread the virus to your hands.
  • Keep your feet clean and dry. Change your shoes and socks daily.

Getting Rid of Plantar Warts

My doctor froze off that first wart with liquid nitrogen, but it returned. After that, I spent three or four years trying various wart-removal treatments. Here’s a selection:

  • I used over-the-counter salicylic acid products.
  • On the advice of friends, I soaked it repeatedly with cider vinegar.
  • I taped raw potato slices (then later, fresh garlic slices) over the wart.
  • I smothered it with duct tape smeared over with vaseline.
  • I used rough emery boards and pumice stones to try to scrape it off, then razors to shave it off.
  • I tried pulling it out with sharp-pointed tweezers.

Not realizing the highly infectious nature of the wart virus, I ended up with many more warts, not only on my foot, but eventually around the fingernails of my right hand. I'd sometimes get rid of one or two, only to have other appear within a few days.

I finally returned to my doctor, who reminded me that most “successful” wart-removal remedies are serendipitous, as eventually the immune system wakes up to recognize those warts as invaders, and wipes them out.

He suggested I forego any more treatments, just try to forget about them, and I’d wake up one day to find that pouf! the warts would be gone.

And that’s exactly what happened.

I haven’t had one since, though I take exquisite precautions to avoid getting infected again.

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Bill (not verified)

3 years 6 months ago

I am a physical therapist and have treated several people including my brother who have plantar warts. Several sessions of ultrasound (US), 1.0 Watts/ CM2 for 6-8 minutes pulsed, 1-3 time a week usually is enough to kill the virus. US heats the tissue and kills the virus. A study was done years ago and recommended this treatment. When I read the article I tried it on my brother and a friend's son. Warts were gone in 4-6 weeks.

Margaret Boyles

3 years 6 months ago

In reply to by Bill (not verified)

Very interesting, Bill. I looked at clinical abstracts for use of ultrasound to treat plantar warts and found conflicting evidence. Can you cite the study you referenced? Also, have you checked with your two patients to learn if the warts have returned?

I've had a lot pf physical therapy and  deeply value the profession, not only for the therapy and education my PTs have offered, but also for their diagnostic skills.

Yet 4-6 weeks of 1-3 ultrasound treatments/week would prove very expensive for people without top-notch health insurance. Plus, the patient would need a referral from his/her primary care professional. I assume the cost would keep many people from seeking this therapy for their warts.