Cracked heels, also called “heel fissures,” are a fairly common foot condition. For many people they are merely a nuisance or a cosmetic problem, but if the cracks are deep, they can be painful when you’re on your feet. Cracked heels may also bleed.
Cracked heels generally are caused by dry skin (xerosis) and are more difficult to treat if the skin around the rim of the heel is thickened or callused. In severe cases, the cracks or fissures can become infected. The problem is more severe among women, who report the condition at a rate more than 50 percent higher than men.
Visual symptoms usually are obvious – cracks or fissures in the skin in the heel area that may cause discomfort or pain and bleeding. Bacteria may enter through the breaks in the skin, resulting in infection. Signs of infection include redness/red streaks, swelling and warmth to the touch. In addition, the area may be painful to the touch, or when more pressure is applied.
Properly designed shoes or boots can help prevent heel cracks. Good solid heel in the rear of the shoe or boot help protect the heel. Avoid open-heeled shoes.
What Causes Dry Cracked Heels?
While one of the main causes of dry, cracking skin is the arid winter air, other factors can impact heels. Common problems that contribute to heel fissures include but are not limited to:
- Shoes with poor support
- Psoriasis or other skin-related conditions
- Kidney disease
- Thyroid disease
- Vitamin deficiency
- Excess weight
Skin loses its ability to stretch with age, so cracks are more common as you get older.
Best Ways to Prevent and Help Repair Cracked Heels
Conservative treatment of dry, cracked heels is easily prevented by wearing adequate supportive shoes and with regular use of moisturizers. Ideally, the goal is to prevent cracks from first forming.
- Topical creams and heel balms are documented to be the best treatment. Creams that use keratolytic and humectant agents containing urea, salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids, saccharide isomerate, and petroleum jelly may all be successful.
- Pumice stones can remove some of the excess dead skin
- Bandages or coverings allow moisturizing agents to work more effectively, prevent moisture loss, and act as a barrier against bacteria growth.
- Insoles (orthotics) can also redistribute pressure abnormalities on the heel.
If healing is slow, your podiatrist or other healthcare practitioner may decide to remove specific callus tissue to help the healing process. Pay close attention to your feet daily and ideally you can avoid this from day one!