Heel fissures, otherwise known as cracked heels, are at the very best a nuisance. They’re unsightly, they’re uncomfortable, and they may even cause some pain.
In some cases, however, heel fissure can pose more serious medical risks, including bleeding, infection, and more significant pain, especially when bearing weight. Calluses—patches of thickened skin—may form, particularly around the edges of the heel. Fissures can be especially worrisome if you have a condition that suppresses your immune system, such as diabetes.
That’s why it’s good to take action at the first sign of trouble—not only will you feel better, but you may be able to cut off some of the more troublesome possible complications before they even begin.
Where Cracked Heels Come From
Heel fissures can have multiple causes, including genetic, medical, and environmental factors. In many cases a combination of causes is at work.
Medical conditions that can produce dry skin and cracks in skin include skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. More indirectly, problems such as neuropathy or diabetes may serve as a catalyst—such conditions may lead to drier skin due to less sweating or lowering metabolism.
Environmental risk factors may include some of the following:
- Putting lots of weight on your feet throughout the day. Periods of prolonged standing (as is the case in many jobs or activities) as well as obesity magnify your risk.
- Living in a dry climate. This can include indoor “climates”—although Cincinnati may be rainy, indoor heating systems drain moisture from the air, which is why cracked heels are common during the winter months.
- Frequently walking barefoot or with open-backed shoes.
Finally, there seems to be a genetic component. Some people, for whatever reason, seem to be more apt to developing dry skin and heel fissure than others.
More minor cases of heel fissures can usually be prevented or resolved through attentive at-home care. Applying an oil-based moisturizing cream twice per day and sleeping with socks on should help you keep your skin from drying out and soothe existing cracks. Calluses can be addressed by gently using a pumice stone to thin out thickened areas of skin and remove flakes.
Avoid going barefoot or wearing open-backed shoes, if possible avoid standing for too long at a time, and if you’re overweight or obese, make an effort to move toward a healthier figure. These strategies, in addition to protecting your feet and improve your general health, also will help you reduce reoccurrence of heel fissures.
Never take matters into your own hands via “bathroom surgery” using a knife or scissors. Doing so can easily lead to an infection. If moisturizing isn’t doing enough to deal with the itchiness and cracking, or if you notice any signs of bleeding or infection, it’s time to see the podiatrist for medical intervention.
How We Can Help
When developing a treatment plan for heel fissures, it’s important to know the underlying causes. We’ll take the time to talk with you about your symptoms, your medical history, any environmental factors that may be in play, and if necessary run any tests. Skin conditions or medical issues that affect metabolism and sweating will need to be addressed directly—depending on the problem, we may be able to prescribe a treatment plan, or refer you to an appropriate specialist. Of course, antibiotics will be prescribed for an active or potential infection.
In addition to more thorough debridement of the thickened skin or the application of prescription-strength moisturizers, we may find that other strategies or techniques can help. We may use straps or even natural adhesives to hold particularly deep or wide cracks together so that they can heel. Furthermore, if there are associated structural foot problems contributing to your heel fissures, we may recommend inserts such as heel cups, cushioned insoles, or custom orthotics to protect your heels and divert away excess pressure.
If dry skin and deep, painful cracks are making it hard for you to go about your day and accomplish your daily tasks, you don’t have to just bear it. Call Family Foot & Ankle Center today for an evaluation and treatment program. You can request an appointment online using our contact form, or give us a call at 888-689-3317.