Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Cyclist's Guide to Killing Plantar Warts

After my year-long struggle with these painful, irritating things—known to my mother as "planter's warts"—I have discovered the much-sought "fool-proof" way to get rid of them. As with most things (are you listening, Malcolm Gladwell?), the key is hard work.

The Backstory

Toward the end of last summer, I felt what I thought was a sliver on the bottom of my right foot. It even looked like a sliver—just a little black spot beneath the skin. But the main symptom was that when I went over a bump on my bike, I'd feel little bolts of lightning strike my foot. I tried picking at the "sliver" with a needle, to no avail. I spent the rest of the summer hobbling around. Standing in the shop during Doug Fattic's class for 14 hours a day was a particularly painful experience.

Some time after I got home, I looked at the Wikipedia entry for plantar warts, and realized that was what I had. I began treating it with salicylic acid, and then my mom told me to try duct tape. I combined the two techniques, and within a few weeks, wart #1 had fallen off.

But it came back. It didn't hurt as much so I didn't treat it as aggressively, though I did still keep duct tape on it. But over the winter (for instance, walking to and from my hotel in Indianapolis during NAHBS) my foot still hurt in that same spot.

Then, about a month and a half ago, I noticed that while my wart was not very good at making me hurt, it was a prolific reproducer. I had two new warts on my feet. This time I got serious. I tried a lot of different things, and now know exactly how to kill them.


First, don't bother with duct tape or anything else. Just use salicylic acid. I used "Duofilm," but I'm sure Compound W or any other brand would work just fine. The other things you'll need are band-aids (the Life brand ones pictured above and available to Canadians at Shopper's Drug Mart are particularly sticky and good), 100ish-grit sandpaper, and some sort of basin.

Next, follow this routine very faithfully. It's hard work; it's annoying; but it works. Every evening, soak your foot in warm water for 5-10 minutes. Then wash the wart and let it dry. Once the skin is dry sand the wart quite vigorously (say 20 swipes or so) with a small square of sandpaper. Once you've removed all the skin you can, put on a few drops of the salicylic acid. Then (and I think this is important) put the bandaid on the wart—but not the "padded" centre part. Instead, cut off one of the sticky thirds of the bandaid with some scissors and apply that sticky part directly to the wart. In the morning, peel off the bandaid (skin—and maybe the wart itself—may come off with it...), put on some more salicylic acid, and apply another sticky bandaid section. One of my theories is that the twice-daily pulling of this sticky bandaid serves to loosen the wart's contact to your foot. But I'm an graduate student in English, so I'm probably wrong.

After a week or so of this routine, faithfully followed, the wart will probably either fall off or come off during one of your vigorous sanding sessions. It is important to keep treating the wart! If you stop now, it will just grow back. I came to regard warts not as "things" but as processes: as little skin-producing factories. What you've done now is gotten rid of the skin produced by the factory—and exposed that accursed factory to the light of day. So keep soaking, sanding, and applying acid. When you get right down to the source of the wart, you'll probably see a little ring of skin with a sort of a ball in the middle. Sand off the ball—it's the factory! When you apply salicylic acid at this point, it will hurt really badly. This means you've won!

With each of my warts, I kept treating them for a few days after I was sure they were dead. Then I stopped treatment, let the normal colour return to the skin around where the warts had been, and checked for that tell-tale funnel/hole. If there is no disruption of the normal pattern in your skin, the wart is gone and dead. But it will take a while for your foot to get over all the trauma it's been through and grow back normal skin.

Once all this is done, it's time to get back on the bike. And avoid ever getting a wart again!


danielle said...

Couldn't you save money and just use duct tape instead of bandaids? But it sounds like you've got a great plan there--have to try it!! I'm sick of ignoring the things and hoping they'll just go away--only getting more painful!!

AH said...

Counterintuitive as it may sound, I found bandaids stuck much better than duct tape! It might be the opposite for others, of course... Good luck!

Rob13 said...

Awesome! Love hearing success stories with plantar warts! I thought mine would never go, but if you don't give up you will persevere! One thing that helped me a lot (in addition to duct tape and salicylic acid) was epsom slat soaks (magnesium sulfate). I've got before and after pics on my blog if you'd care to stop by and check out my story! Congrats on winning the wart battle!