Heel fissures, or cracked heels, happen when the skin on the bottom of your heel becomes hard and dry. You may also notice that the skin becomes flaky or crusty. When the skin gets very dry, cracks or fissures can form.
Causes of Heel Fissures
In most cases, heel fissures are caused by very dry skin. For most people with cracked heels, this problem is only cosmetic and doesn’t cause any further problems. However, people with deep cracks may experience pain or even bleeding.
For many people, the dry skin on your heels becomes callused as pressure is put on the back of your heels when you stand. The calluses usually develop on the back of your heel and can be yellow or dark brown. When weight and pressure are put on your heels but the skin is already dry, this can lead to little cracks.
The cracks often start small on the heel and can get bigger and deeper over time. This is when your heel fissures can cause pain and bleeding. The pain usually goes away when you sit and take your weight off your feet.
Anyone can get heel fissures, but some people have higher chances. Risk factors and related conditions include:
- Psoriasis and eczema
- Standing or walking for long periods of time on hard surfaces
- Thyroid problems
- Lack of certain vitamins and nutrients
- Lack of estrogen
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Unusual circulation
Preventing Heel Fissures
There are a few things that you can do to help prevent cracked heels.
Because heel fissures happen when your skin is dried out, the first thing you can do to prevent them is to take care of the skin on your feet. Apply foot cream or lotion every day to help keep it hydrated. It’s best to do this after a shower or bath, when the skin is soft.
File the skin on your heels at least once a week with a pumice stone. This helps remove the dry, flaky skin on your heels. Filing your heels also helps to remove the thick layers of calluses and dry skin so that the moisturizer can better absorb and hydrate your skin. It’s best to file your feet when the skin is completely dry. The easiest way to do it is seated on a chair.
What you wear also makes a difference when it comes to heel fissures. Shoes with open backs, like sandals and flip-flops, make cracked heels worse. Wear shoes that have shock absorption so that you aren’t standing on a hard surface all day. After you moisturize each day, put on socks so that the cream stays on your feet.
Treating Heel Fissures
Don’t ignore heel fissures. For most, they don’t cause any serious problems, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t complications. If your heels are cracked to the point where they are painful and bleeding, they can get infected. These infections can be dangerous for people with diabetes or weakened immune systems.
Home treatments. The good news is that you can treat cracked heels from home. If you’ve got heel fissures, moisturize your feet at least twice a day instead of just once. Choose thick creams that have skin softeners in them. Look for labels that say things like:
- Salicylic acid
- Alpha-hydroxy acid
- Saccharide isomerate (pentavitin)
All of these ingredients help soften skin while removing dead skin. Note that these ingredients might cause some stinging or irritation.
Each day, soak your feet in warm, soapy water before going to bed. Dry them completely, and then gently rub your heels with a loofah to help get rid of the dead skin. Next, put petroleum jelly or an oil-based cream on your feet, followed by a pair of thin socks.
Other treatments. If home care isn’t helping, you might need to talk to a podiatrist, a doctor who specializes in foot care. They can remove the dead skin in a way that won’t lead to more pain and bleeding. They might also recommend special tape or braces that hold the fissures together so that they can close and heal.
Another way to heal cracked heels is with a liquid skin protectant. This is like a liquid bandage that helps protect the cracks and reduce the pain that comes from walking on them. Special orthotic shoe inserts with heel cups help keep the skin from cracking more when you walk or stand.