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Cracked heels: Causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention

Why do cracked heels occur?

Cracked heels often occur as a result of dry skin or hard skin (callus) build up. As the skin dries out, it loses its elasticity, which ultimately leads to cracked heels.  As with many foot conditions there isn’t usually one distinct reason that cracked heels occur, but more so a list of contributing factors. These contributing factors may include;

  1. Wearing open and poorly fitted footwear such as thongs or sandals or regularly walking barefooted, this exposes the skin and can contribute to dryness and cracked feet.
  2. It is thought that there may be a genetic component to heels cracking as some people are more predisposed to development of callus and dryness in the skin. 
  3. Standing for long hours on hard surfaces may encourage the build up of hard skin around the heels as the body’s protective mechanism. 
  4. Increased body weight places a greater load through the feet and therefore encourages the build up of callus.
  5. Climate may dry out the skin – People tend to experience cracked heels more in the summer months.
  6. Some medical conditions such as; fungal infections/tinea, dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, diabetes, thyroid or estrogen imbalances, deficiency of vitamins, minerals, zinc, circulation problems, kidney disease or taking diuretics.
  7. Foot posture may play a role in the development of cracked heels. The foot posture and biomechanics may increase the amount of load going through the heels. 
  8. A lack of certain vitamins and minerals can contribute to dryness in the skin.
  9. As we age we experience many physiological changes to the body. This can result in our skin beginning to dry out, therefore predisposing us to thickening and cracking skin.

What are the risk factors for dry, cracking heels?

There are some medical conditions that are considered to be risk factors for cracking heels, these include the following;

  • Diabetes – Diabetes can cause damage to the nerve endings in the feet, as well as the blood vessels that supply the heels. This puts people with diabetes at a higher risk of developing cracks in the heels. It also makes it more difficult to heal the cracks, as the blood supply is limited.
  • Obesity – Being overweight places a greater load on the feet, this can lead to biomechanical changes as well. With greater plantar pressures going through the heels, the ski tends to thicken which often leads to cracking.
  • Psoriasis – Psoriasis is a skin condition which often affects the palms and soles of the feet (palmoplantar psoriasis). Psoriasis usually presents as red, itchy, dry, thickened and cracked skin. If your Podiatrist thinks you have psoriasis you may be referred to a dermatologist for treatment. 

  • Flat feet – Flat feet or pronated foot type may cause thickening and cracking of the heels. This particular foot posture places a greater load on the heels which results in hardened, thickened skin build up.
  • Circulation problems – People who have issues with circulation may be more prone to dry, cracked heels as the restricted blood flow makes healing more difficult.
  • Fungal infections – Some fungal infections have been known to dry out the skin, which can then lead to cracked heels. If you suspect you may have a fungal infection, seek advice from your Podiatrist immediately.

What are the symptoms?

Initially, you may notice a thickening of the skin on the heels and it may become dry and flakey. The cracks usually start out small and if left untreated widen and often become painful to walk on. If you cannot see your heels and you think they may be cracking, make sure you visit your Podiatrist. 

How are cracked heels treated?

The most effective way to treat cracked heels is daily moisturising with a urea based moisturiser (or heel balm), which we have available for purchase at the clinic. Regular use of a pumice stone may help to reduce the hard skin between visits to your Podiatrist.

Paraffin wax baths have been known to be successful in the treatment of dry skin. This is a treatment where your feet are dipped in warm wax, left for 10 minutes and then the wax is gently peeled off. The wax is an emollient, so it helps to hydrate the skin during and even after the treatment is complete. It can also improve blood circulation.

If you notice that you have cracked bleeding heels make sure you put an antiseptic (for example, Betadine) on them and cover them with a bandage and seek advice from your podiatrist immediately.

We also recommend regular appointments with your Podiatrist to debride the hard skin. 

What are our tips for prevention of cracking heels?

  1. Regular moisturising with a urea based cream to skin around the heel – We stock the Walker’s cream for purchase at all of our clinics. We recommend doing this at night and putting a pair of socks on to keep the moisture in.
  2. Regular appointments with your Podiatrist for callus and dead skin removal and smoothing of the rough skin. 
  3. Enclosed footwear to discourage the dryness and cracking – Try to limit the amount of time spent in thongs and sandals and other open back shoes. Try to wear socks as much as possible. 
  4. Paraffin wax bath to hydrate the skin and improve circulation to the feet. This will prevent cracked heels.
  5. Regular use of a pumice stone to reduce hard and thickened skin around the heel. 
  6. Regular exercise to moderate body weight and encourage an increase of blood circulation. This will help prevent dry feet and cracked skin.

Need to see a podiatrist for your cracked heels?

If you want smooth, soft heels, book an appointment HERE with one of our friendly podiatrists at Foot Centre Group. Or call us on 9553 0044

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