The presence of an ulcer beneath callus on the diabetic foot has been a well-documented and common clinical finding. We have conducted a prospective study to examine whether callus can be used to predict plantar intrinsic neuropathic diabetic foot ulcer formation. Sixty-three diabetic patients (43 male, 25 Type 1), median age 62 years (IQ range 52, 67), median diabetes duration 17 years (IQ range 8,25) participated in the study. All had neuropathy and peak plantar foot pressures (measured using a dynamic optical pedobarograph) > or = 10 kg cm-2. Calluses and previous ulcers were documented and classified. All ulcers occurring prior to and during the study were recorded, re-examination was 15.4 (range 10-22) months from baseline. Seven ulcers (6 patients) occurred during the study. Pressures were higher in the ulcer than non-ulcer sub-group (p = 0.04) with a relative risk of developing an ulcer of 4.7 for an area of elevated plantar pressure. This compares with a relative risk of 11.0 for an ulcer developing under an area of callus, and a relative risk of 56.8 for an ulcer developing on a site of previous ulceration. This study confirms that a history of previous ulceration is the highest risk factor for ulceration and demonstrates, for the first time, that the presence of plantar callus is highly predictive of subsequent ulceration. Careful history taking and examination of the foot to detect the presence of callus require no special training or equipment and callus should be recognized as a 'high risk' factor for foot ulceration.