Warts are not generally a topic for polite conversation. Even the name is kind of gross, especially the medical term, Verruca vulgaris.
Although warts can show up almost any place on the body, plantar warts occurring on the soles of the feet can be especially troublesome. That’s because they can be painful when they get large. They can also be difficult to treat.
One reader shared this tale of woe and intrigue:
“I was misdiagnosed several times as having a plantar wart. It hurt to walk on it, and in the summer it would swell until I’d limp.
“I tried OTC remedies and folk medicine but it just grew and grew, wider and wider, deeper and deeper. Five different podiatrists said I had a plantar wart and removed it surgically. Each time it grew back within six months. This resulted in quite a lot of scar tissue in that area, making it even more painful to walk.
“A plastic surgeon said it was a plantar wart and considered doing surgery on it, but it was so large that he didn’t think the surgery would be successful. At that point I went to a dermatologist who diagnosed it as a mosaic wart.
“I am convinced that many people have mosaic warts rather than plantar warts. Trying to cut out a mosaic wart can cause it to spread more quickly and is not an effective way to get rid of them.
“I used 20 percent salicylic acid (basically Compound W) daily and scraped the area with a scalpel. The first visit he numbed the area and removed a lot of the tissue that had made walking so painful. Although the dermatologist said it usually takes a month of daily application, it took me four months. But that was five years ago. It has never returned. I hope you can educate people about mosaic warts so they don’t have to suffer like I did.”
Mosaic warts can be hard to treat. Technically, they are a collection of plantar warts that have grown together to cover a large area. Surgery can be problematic for the reasons described. Once scar tissue has formed, it can be painful in its own right.
We’re glad the topical salicylic acid worked. Years ago dermatologists actually used X-rays for hard-to-treat plantar warts. Here’s one reader’s account: “My son had his [plantar wart] removed by a dermatologist who used radiation for a couple of minutes. The wart died, pushed to the surface and disappeared. It was a lot better than surgery.”
Dermatologists rarely use radiation for wart removal these days. Instead, they may use lasers or chemotherapy. One reader shared this recollection: “I had a chemotherapy agent injected into my heel for plantar warts that had multiplied like crazy. Four people had to hold me down to keep me still while this was done and then I spent days on the couch with ice packs on my foot. I had bruising and swelling beyond belief. This procedure didn’t work the first time and I had to have it repeated.”
Less invasive approaches include home remedies such as duct tape, hot water soaks, banana peel and topical turmeric. Many people report that the oral heartburn drug cimetidine (Tagamet) can also help.
Readers who would prefer to start with home treatment of plantar warts will find many suggestions in our book, the People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.