Nearly every athlete and or fitness enthusiast, who has ever trained consistently, has encountered a build up of calluses. This article will take a look at what causes calluses, how our bodies use calluses, how to prevent calluses from tearing and how to treat torn calluses when they arise.
Calluses are thickened areas of skin that are caused by repetitive friction and or pressure on the skin. The callus acts as a protective barrier between the skin and the external source of the force or friction. Although calluses can form nearly anywhere on the body, the hands and feet are the most common locations for calluses. This article will focus primarily on the calluses of the hands. Although calluses are formed by the body with the purpose of protecting the skin, like mostly anything, too much of a good thing has the ability to have a negative impact.
When calluses build and thicken to the point that they are raised above the surface of the skin, they are at risk for being torn off. There seems to be an association with an initiation into die-hard training that is marked by torn calluses. Rather, torn calluses are as much a sign of toughness as is catching the flu. Both the flu and torn calluses have a negative impact on training and luckily, measures can be taken to prevent both. There is nothing beneficial nor celebratory-worthy about having bleeding, torn hands. Although keeping calluses at a safe thickness takes a little work, preventing torn calluses is almost always easier than dealing with, treating and healing a torn callus.
There are several measures that can be taken to prevent calluses from building to a thickness that poses a threat for a tear. Although various methods and preferred techniques exist, there are three main goals to keep in mind when it comes to preventing torn calluses:
- Keep calluses at an even level with the rest of the hand. To keep the calluses at a safe thickness, filing or sanding them down is recommended. This can be achieved in several ways. It is helpful to file the calluses while they are soft and wet (post-shower filing or soaking hands in warm water before filing is helpful). Recommended files include: fingernail files, callus/corn shavers, pumice stones, sandpaper or even a dull butter knives. Frequency of filing varies between individuals and different types of training, but generally speaking, consistently filing callouses every two weeks should keep them at a safe thickness.
- Keep hands moisturized. Consistent use of chalk and the frequent washing of hands leads to dry skin. Again, preferences differ when it comes to moisturizers. Some effective and affordable solutions may already be sitting around your home, such as Vasoline and olive/coconut oils.
- As tempting as it is when boredom sets in, try to refrain from picking and pulling at the skin of the calluses. Often, this results in ripping away too much skin, leaving exposed cracks and crevices. This leaves the skin open and at risk of infection.
When torn calluses do arise, there are steps that should be taken to protect other athletes, prevent infection and to promote a quicker healing time. Torn calluses almost always occur before a workout is completely finished. If possible, continue with the workout, as pain allows, and bring your injury to the attention of the trainer. Although painful, chalk can generally be used to stop bleeding if the workout can be continued.
Here’s what can be done while you’re still at Athletic Lab following a tear:
- As a measure of safety to others, all equipment that has come into contact with torn skin needs to be disinfected (pullup bars, barbells, kettbells, etc). It is very important to bring the tear to the attention of the trainer in order for necessary cleaning to be performed.
- One of the most important things to keep in mind while treating a torn callus: any broken skin is at risk for becoming infected. Clean the tear with mild soap and water. Expect an intense stinging or burning sensation. Ask the front desk for Neosporin and a bandage to keep the area covered and clean until you get home.
- There’s some debate as to whether the loose flap of skin from a torn callus should be cut away or put back into place. It has been reported that leaving the flap of skin and pressing it back into place makes for a faster recovery time. Feel free to experiment with the different methods to see what works best for you. If cutting the flap of skin, use a disinfected pair of small scissors to remove the flap of skin. It’s important to keep the wound covered and clean.
- There are several recommended methods for speeding recovery time. These methods include: soaking the hand in warm water and Epsom salts for 10 minutes (1-2 times per day), vitamin E oil, pressing and holding wet tea bags on the affected area and Dermabond skin sealant.
Returning to Training After a Tear
A torn callus should not keep you from training. However, if a specific exercise becomes too painful, an alternative exercise may be recommended. Don’t let a torn callus keep you from working out.
Gloves: some people swear by the use of gloves. Others dislike them. If the use of gloves allows you to comfortably use your wounded hand, then utilize them. An adhesive foam ‘doughnut’ (round callus cushion) may be placed around the wound. Gloves may aid in preventing the cushion from being pulled off of the hand during a workout. If gloves are not an option, the following grip may be formed from athletic tape (see pictures).