Cracked heels, or heel fissures, are splits in the skin around the heel. When pressure is put onto the heel from our bodyweight while walking and standing, the skin needs to stretch and spread out a little. If the heel cannot stretch because the skin is dry and inflexible, it will split.
Sometimes the sole of your foot can get very dehydrated, leaving the skin dry, rough or even cracked. Dry skin is related to a lack of moisture retention by the skin. It could be caused by things such as excessive bathing in hot water, excessive use of soap, or exposure to dry air and wind.
Areas of thick hard skin are usually yellowish and round, larger than corns and with crossed lines on the surface of the skin. They form on the top and outer edges of toes, on the ball of the foot and the back of the heel, and are caused by on-going stress and pressure on the foot. They tend to cause a widespread feeling of burning rather than the acute pain caused by corns.
Cracked heels can occur for a number of reasons, from lacking enough moisture to wearing exposing footwear. If you’ve noticed symptoms such as dry skin thickening around your heels, or have cracked skin or heel pain, then knowing the causes can help you understand the condition, and could prevent further relapses.
In severe cases cracked heels can bleed and lead to exposure and risk of infection. If left untreated this can lead to serious complications.
There are several potential causes of cracked heels. Take a look at your routine and if you can identify anything below that may be affecting you, then try altering your current habits. Here are the most common causes that can lead to cracked heels:
● Lack of Moisture – The most common cause of cracked heels. The skin underneath your feet is often dry, rough and chapped. This is because the skin around your heels has a small number of sweat glands. Fat normally supports the skin to become soft, and prevents it from becoming dry. If your skin is particularly dry then cracked skin appears more easily due to less elasticity, and can exacerbate any of the below.
● Deficiencies – Lack of vitamins and minerals (such as zinc) can affect your heel health.
● Pressure – Spending a long time standing at work or home.
● Aging skin – Thick, dry, scaly skin loses its elasticity with age, and as such cracks could have higher incidence as you become older.
● Obesity – Heavy weight has the potential to increase the pressure on the fat pad under the heel. This can cause it to expand sideways and, if the skin lacks flexibility, put pressure on the feet. This leads to cracked heels.
● Exposing Footwear – Open-back sandals or shoes can allow fat under the heel to expand sideways and increases the possibility of cracks on your heels. Taking care of your feet regularly is important when wearing exposing footwear.
● Hygiene – Unhygienic conditions can be a further cause.
● Water – Water can take away natural oils from the skin and can leave the skin rough and/or dry. Standing for prolonged periods in damp areas, such as a bathroom, can cause dry and cracked heels.
● Poorly-Fitting Shoes – Standing for a long time or change in walking posture.
● Genetics – Naturally dry or calloused skin around the heel could be a genetic cause of cracked heels.
Podiatrists at TFAAC have vast experience in diagnosing and treating cracked heels and dry skin and typically this treatment is very successful but involves a multifactorial approach.
A Paraffin Wax Bath is an effective way of softening and treating dry, cracked skin and is available at all FAAC clinics.