Plantar warts are warts that grow on the feet. They are noncancerous skin growths that result from infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). They feature hard, thickened skin, often with black or brown dots in the middle, and they can be painful to stand on.

Plantar warts are rough bumps that grow on the feet. They usually appear on the heels — the areas of the feet that experience the most pressure.

Plantar warts result from human papillomavirus (HPV). The virus can penetrate cuts or tears on the soles of the feet. Up to 33% of children have warts, but they are less common in adults.

Like any other type of warts, plantar warts are harmless and go away with little to no treatment. However, treatments are available.

This article explains warts on the feet, their causes and treatment, and more.

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Plantar warts usually grow on the soles of the feet, particularly at pressure points. Plantar warts are sometimes called verrucas, and they can grow quite large.

Unlike other kinds of warts, plantar warts do not grow outward. Because the soles of the feet support the body when a person is standing, pressure pushes the warts inward, which can cause pain.

Two types of plantar warts can appear on the feet:

  • Myrmecial-type plantar warts: These warts develop as a result of HPV-1 infection. They appear as domed, smooth-surfaced lesions. The myrmecial type may contain black or brownish dots, which are tiny burst blood vessels. They tend to cause pain while a person is walking or standing.
  • Mosaic-type plantar warts: Mosaic-type warts are clusters of plantar warts that pack tightly together. HPV-2 infection is responsible for this type of warts. They tend to be flatter and less painful than myrmecial warts.

Learn more about HPV infection here.

General symptoms of plantar warts include:

  • a solitary rough growth or a cluster of small growths on the sole of the foot
  • hard, thickened skin at the place where the wart grows inward
  • black or brownish dots, which are burst capillaries
  • pain when walking or standing

Learn how to identify types of warts here.

Plantar warts result from HPV infections. Warts occur when the virus enters skin cells through cuts or injuries on the bottom of the foot. The virus makes the skin cells grow more quickly, which causes a thickened bump, or wart, to form.

HPV is very common and contagious, with hundreds of variations. However, only a few types of HPV cause plantar warts. The viruses perform best in warm, moist places such as communal areas near swimming pools, and they are most likely to infect moist or injured skin.

If a person scratches or picks a wart, they may transfer the virus elsewhere, such as under the fingernail. This might cause more warts to grow, separately from the original infection site.

Although anyone can develop plantar warts, this type of wart is more common in:

  • school-age children
  • people with compromised immune systems
  • people with dermatitis, who have a weakened skin barrier
  • people who walk barefoot in damp, warm places where HPV thrives
  • people who live with other people who have warts
  • people who work with raw meat

Although warts on the feet are noncancerous and often go away on their own, they may cause complications.

The discomfort from plantar warts may cause someone to change the way they stand or walk. This could ultimately affect a person’s posture and cause pain elsewhere, such as in the knee or hip. Pain may also interfere with sporting activities and prevent a person from being active.

Any warts on the skin may also cause embarrassment or lead to teasing at school. Children may experience negativity from others as a result of having a contagious condition, however benign.

Warts are contagious regardless of location. However, there are a few things people with warts can do to avoid transmitting the virus to unaffected areas or to other people:

  • Avoid touching or scratching warts, and wash the hands properly after touching them.
  • Keep the feet clean, dry, and protected from cuts.
  • Cover warts with a bandage when swimming.
  • Avoid sharing towels, washcloths, shoes, or socks with other people.
  • Wear sandals or flip-flops when walking in a pool area or locker room.
  • Do not share pumice stones or skin files with others.
  • Wear clean socks every day.

A doctor will check the feet for distinctive features to diagnose a plantar wart. They may scrape or cut off the top layer with a scalpel to check for black dots.

To confirm their diagnosis, the doctor may send the skin sample to a laboratory for analysis.

However, a 2022 article in the Journal of Medical Virology describes a newer diagnosis method involving taking a swab of the suspected wart. Doctors test the swab using the multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. The researchers found identical results using the PCR method and older methods.

Warts often go away without treatment, although this can take several weeks to years. The immune system can clear the virus over time, so the warts disappear. People with compromised immune systems may find it more difficult to get rid of warts.

Doctors have many treatment options for warts, including:

  • cryotherapy, or freezing medication
  • cantharidin, which causes a blister under the wart that cuts off its blood supply
  • electrosurgery and curettage, which involves scraping and burning the wart
  • excision, which involves cutting off the wart

For stubborn warts, a dermatologist may recommend laser treatment or immunotherapy.

People can also try various home remedies to treat warts, such as salicylic acid products or the duct tape method. The video below is from the American Academy of Dermatologists and explains how to use home remedies.

Learn more about wart removal methods here.

What happens if you leave a wart untreated?

Warts usually go away on their own. However, this may take months or years to happen. While they are still present, they can spread to unaffected areas of the body or to other people.

Can warts be cancerous?

Common warts are noncancerous. If someone has a wart-like growth on their skin and is unsure what it is, they can consult a doctor to confirm the diagnosis.

Warts usually disappear on their own, but if a person wants treatment, they can ask a pharmacist for recommendations. A person should contact a doctor if:

  • they have a wart that keeps coming back
  • their wart is very large or painful
  • their wart bleeds or changes in appearance
  • they are worried about a wart-like growth

In people with robust immune systems, warts usually disappear within several months or years. In children, about 50% of warts disappear within 6 months without needing treatment, and 90% disappear within 2 years. There is little data on the natural course of warts in adults.

Treatment for plantar warts focuses on removing skin that contains the virus. If some virus remains, the wart is likely to recur.

Warts on the feet develop when a person’s foot comes into contact with skin cells that carry HPV. This is more likely to happen when the foot is moist or the skin is broken. HPV thrives in warm, damp areas such as communal changing rooms.

Plantar warts are not harmful, but they can be painful. Although treatment is unnecessary, people may choose to buy over-the-counter remedies or talk with a doctor about other wart-removal options.

Most warts disappear on their own, but in people with compromised immune systems, they might take longer to disappear.

People can take precautions, such as washing their hands after touching their feet, to prevent HPV from spreading to other body parts or to other people.