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  • Sheehy Ankle & Foot Center

Causes & Corrections for Cracked Heels

Updated: Oct 4

Why cracked heels occur and how to fix them.

A first point of view image of shoes on cracked pavement.

A cracked heel is a fairly common foot problem affecting most adults, especially in winter. In the majority of cases, the problem is not severe and is a mere annoyance. It is also aesthetically displeasing to look at and gets caught up in fabrics easily. In some cases, cracked heels can propagate further into deep cracks and fissures which cause pain and infections.


Causes of Cracked Heels

Cracked heels can have numerous causes. The most common one is dry skin due to a lack of moisture in winter. Here are some other causes of cracked heels:

  • Dermatitis and Dermatosis which can cause skin irritation and cracks

  • Psoriasis

  • Systemic conditions like hypothyroidism and diabetes

  • Palmoplantar keratoderma

  • Being overweight, and obesity

  • Long-standing jobs

  • Poorly-fitted shoes, open-back shoes, sandals, and shoes without proper support or cushioning

  • Usage of harsh soaps

  • Long and hot baths/showers

  • Sjogren’s syndrome

  • Fungal infections like Athletes’ foot

  • Flat feet


A Timberland boot print on cracked pavement.

Signs and Symptoms of Cracked Heel

As cracked heels are pretty common, they can be easily identified as hard and dry, thickened patches of skin around the rim of the heel. The callus can be transparent, yellow, or dark brown in color.


Small cracks when left untreated can become deeper and darker with time. This can lead to pain and bleeding, making it difficult to walk. Untreated cracks can lead to infection and cellulitis. In diabetics, it can also cause neuropathic damage and foot ulcers.


Treatment

Moisturizing the feet is the simplest way to treat cracked heels and also prevent their propagation. If the cracked heel has advanced, certain keratolytic and water-retaining agents can be used. These include urea, saccharide isomerate, alpha-hydroxy acids, and salicylic acid. Bandages help with painful cracks and fissures.


For severely cracked heels, debridement is necessary. Your podiatric surgeon may cut away the hard and thick skin, followed by strapping and dressing and frequent use of debriding agents.


A man's bare feet walking on a rocky beach.

Podiatrist Newsletter provided by LRW Media. Images provided by Unsplash/ Elle Storset, Edoardo Busti, and Magdalena.



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