What Really Causes Cracked Heels and How to Heal Them (Part I)
Cracked heels may feel like a nuisance, but they can lead to more serious problems if left untreated. They can result from various medical conditions, including athlete’s foot and diabetes, from using public showers, or due to the wrong choice of footwear. Treat your feet by giving them a little more attention and by seeking professional help if your heels turn painful. Schedule an appointment with a highly trained and skilled foot and ankle doctor at the Century Medical and Dental Center to learn about appropriate treatment options for cracked heels. The experienced and board-certified podiatrists identify what is causing the discomfort and recommend the best solutions to ensure your heels do not crack or develop infections again and you remain active and moving.
Cracked Heels – What Are They?
People experience dry, cracked heels for several reasons. Our feet are responsible for holding up our bodies and go through a lot of pressure. When weight and pressure are applied to the heels, the skin expands outwards. If they affect the skin, the skin becomes less elastic and rigid, which leaves it vulnerable to fissures and cracks.
Also known as fissures, cracked heels occur when you have a disruption of the skin barrier. It may result from a medical condition or when your skin is very dry. Occasionally, severely cracked heels can lead to a skin infection called cellulitis.
It is essential to know that dry and cracked heels can result from a combination of medical and lifestyle factors. The most common causes of dry and cracked heels include:
- Sjogren’s syndrome;
- Juvenile planter dermatosis;
- Infections such as athlete’s foot;
- Flat feet;
- Heel spurs;
- Standing for long periods on hard flooring;
- Wearing open healed or poorly fitting shoes;
- Dry and cold weather.
If the cracks or fissures become deep, standing, walking, or any pressure placed on the heel can be painful.
What Leads to Cracked Heels?
Most people believe cracked and dry heels result from dry weather that affects their skin this way. They grab a bottle of lotion and try to soothe the irritated skin with it. What they fail to realize is the most common cause of cracked heels is athlete’s foot infection. As they do not have any medical conditions or risk factors associated with this infection, they fail to understand what is happening.
An athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the foot that usually develops on the soles of the feet and in between the toes. It usually leads to itchy, dry, scaling skin. In more severe cases, inflammation, cracks, and blisters may form. Athletes commonly suffer from sweaty feet and use common facilities where the fungus is found, thus the term “athlete’s foot.”
Athlete’s foot infection is caused by a group of mold-like fungi called dermatophytes that feed on dead skin and nails. This condition is closely related to other fungal infections, including ringworm and jock itch. These microscopic organisms live in dark, warm, and moist environments. Damp socks and the insides of shoes provide a nurturing environment for fungal growth and infection.
Signs and Symptoms of Cracked Heels
The first sign of getting a cracked heel is the development of dry, hard, thickened skin around the rim of the heel. It is called a callus, and may form into a yellow or dark brown discolored area.
In the beginning, small cracks over the callus are visible. Lack of treatment and pressure on the heels can deepen the cracks, which makes walking and standing painful. In some cases, the cracks may be so deep that they will bleed.
Are Cracked Heels Dangerous?
Cracked heels are most likely the result of a fungal infection that does not turn life-threatening. If left untreated, this infection could move to the nails, resulting in fungal nails and discoloration. If detected in its early stages, the athlete’s foot can be treated with over-the-counter medicated powder, creams, sprays, or lotions that are specifically formulated to fight the growth of fungus in the feet.
If these treatments do not work or the infection has progressed to a higher level, doctors recommend topical medication. In severe cases, oral anti-fungal medications become necessary to fight the infection from inside. You may have to get your heels examined by a podiatrist to diagnose the condition if you feel pain.
Do These Infections Occur at a Particular Time of Year?
Most people suffer from cracked heels or athlete’s foot infections during the winters. It is because they wear thicker shoes and boots that block the passage of air, which leads to the accumulation of moisture inside the socks.
These infections are also common during the hotter months as people visit public pools and gyms. They end up walking barefoot in these places, from where they pick up the bacteria.
How to Prevent Cracked Heels?
It is easier to prevent cracked heels than to get rid of the ugly-looking, annoying, and sometimes even painful cracks in your heels. With the best ways to prevent them, you can look forward to having smooth and pain-free heels even during the peak winter days.
Specialists recommended tried and tested ways to prevent cracked heels that include:
- Avoid walking barefoot in public places;
- Walking barefoot, especially at the gym, exposes the feet to bacterial and fungal organisms that can infect the skin and nails.
These factors can lead to infections that change the appearance, smell, and movements of the foot, such as the athlete’s foot, or fungal nails.
Avoid wearing dirty or sweaty socks
Changing socks is very important as organisms thrive in dark, moist places that can lead to foot issues like athlete’s feet and other infections. Change your socks at least once daily or even more if you are active, play sports, or have sweaty feet.
Use an antibacterial spray on your shoes
Using an antibacterial spray on your shoes can reduce the presence of germs that commonly infect the feet. There are many antibacterial sprays available in the supermarket. Find one that kills germs that hide in your shoes and keeps your feet safe.
Viruses, bacteria, and fungi are the most common foot infections and they can be prevented by maintaining hygiene, avoiding damp or dirty socks, and going barefoot in places where germs spread easily.
How to Treat Cracked Heels?
Dry and cracked heels can be cured at home with little care and attention. Some tried and tested ways to heal the calluses caused by cracked heel include:
- Soak your calluses in Apple Cider Vinegar, water, and Epsom Salt for 20 minutes every day. Apply castor oil, tea tree oil, or eucalyptus oil which are natural anti-fungal agents directly to the callus for 5 to 10 minutes and then exfoliate with a pumice stone;
- Get over-the-counter medicated powders, creams, sprays, or lotions that help to get rid of minor infections.
If your infection shows no sign of healing or the cracks turn painful, visiting your podiatrist is necessary. Severe infection can result in pain or bleeding, and it requires stronger medication. Doctors recommend topical or oral anti-fungal medication to stop the further spread of infection and provide relief.
How to Take Care of Your Cracked Heels?
Thick calluses and cracked heels require care and the use of quality products to ensure complete healing.
The following will help you reduce pain, protect your feet and allow rapid healing:
- Application of moisturizing gel on the feet at night and wrapping up the feet with a wrap to ensure penetration of the gel into the foot to break down tough calluses and dry, cracked skin and promote smoother skin and softer feet;
- Drinking plenty of water and including water-rich foods in your diets such as cucumber and watermelon;
- Using a foot file to break down rough calluses and dry, cracked skin to promote smoother and softer feet;
- Exfoliating regularly in the shower to get rid of the hard and dry skin before using any hydrating cream;
- Use a hydrating cream that seals in moisture to protect and heal very dry, cracked skin associated with eczema, psoriasis, or medications;
- Using hyaluronic acid that can boost your skin’s water content;
- Use an over-the-counter anti-fungal gel for at least 3 weeks to clear the dryness if your cracked heels are resulting from athlete’s foot.
If your cracked heels do not get better, start bleeding or the skin changes its color, consult an expert podiatrist to prevent further complications and spread of infection.
Cracked and dry heels not only look bad but can also result in pain and infections that need medical attention. The experienced and board-certified podiatrists at the Century Medical and Dental Center treat a wide array of foot and ankle conditions, from minor problems to complex issues that restrict movement. You can keep your feet healthy and prevent future illnesses, and injuries as cracked heels resulting from medical conditions require special care. The top specialist NY uses advanced diagnostic tools and methods to identify the problem and recommend the best treatments to heal your infections as soon as possible.