Cracks in the heels are often thought of as an inconvenience, causing rough-feeling heels, an undesired heel appearance that is often hidden within enclosed shoes, uncomfortable dryness, and having the skin ridges catch on socks and hosiery which can be painful if pulled on. While this is all true, cracked heels can also put your feet at risk as deep cracks can cause breaks within the healthy skin beneath, leading to bleeding and making you vulnerable to infection. This is why we take cracked heels seriously – especially seeing as we can greatly reduce cracked heels in a single appointment with our podiatrists.
For cracked heels to form, callus must build up around the heels and dry out. When thick callus becomes very dry and pressure is being applied to the heels and the callus, cracks form.
Callus develops when the heels are repeatedly exposed to excessive pressure or friction, which can be from something as simple as long periods of walking, or being on our feet all day at work. Callus build-up is actually a protective mechanism – the body doesn’t want our thin and healthy skin to break, so it creates natural reinforcement and protection. While callus often remains thick and supple without cracks, it can also dry out to become firm, rigid and flexible, meaning that it can crack under pressure – again, even from something as simple as walking, wearing hard-soled unsupportive shoes, becoming more physically active while having foot biomechanics that significantly loads the heels, and more.
As we mentioned earlier, the risk with cracked heels is that the cracks won’t stay isolated to the callus that is overlying the heels, but will extend into the healthy skin – which essentially splits it open. This can be very painful, and make walking very tender and uncomfortable. It also means that dirt and bacteria can enter the body through the cracks, putting you at risk of infection.
Additionally, depending on how the callus is distributed over the heels, this in itself can feel uncomfortable to walk on, and for some can feel like walking on a stone if their callus build-up in one area is unevenly distributed. We always recommend getting cracked heels treated, especially as it is often a simple task for a podiatrist that can make a significant difference in one 30-minute appointment, while showing you how you can continue to care for your heels at home.
Our podiatrists treat cracked heels by debriding the hard callus and the cracked ridges – essentially removing a portion of the thick, dead skin, so your skin feels smoother and softer, has greater sensation, and the level of callus becomes one that you can continue to manage at home safely.
We do this using a surgical scalpel, a process that is typically painless given we are working with dead skin (much like cutting your hair). We’ll remove as much as is safely possible, while leaving the right amount behind to serve the job your body intended it for – to protect your heels. Most patients love having their callus removed as their heels look and feel much better afterwards. In doing so, we also significantly reduce your risk of cracking the healthy skin and picking up an infection.
If your skin is feeling dry, or you’ve just noticed some callus forming, then we absolutely recommend using a good moisturiser daily, ideally before bed. By the time significant callus has developed, and cracks have formed, however, the callus is too thick for the moisturiser to help protect your feet. Once your podiatrist has debrided the callus, this will be a great time to start using daily moisturiser to help promote your foot health as the callus is thinner and can be effectively penetrated by the moisturiser.
Interestingly, your soles and palms are the only areas of skin across your body where there are no oil-producing glands (called sebaceous glands) that keep the skin moist. Instead, they get moisture from the sweat glands, but there are many causes of reduced sweat production that can contribute to dry skin at the soles. Especially when you consider the heat that the feet are exposed to each day when walking in enclosed shoes, and the sheer pressure on our feet from our body weight!
Surprisingly no. We actually recommend limiting baths and showers to just 5-10 minutes because bathing for too long can dry out the skin and make your cracked heels worse.
We recommend wearing socks to bed and using a pair of slippers to navigate the house at night. The socks also prevent the cream from getting on your bed sheets.
While vaseline has many good uses, it actually does not add moisture to the skin to hydrate it – it simply creates a film/barrier to seal in the existing moisture, which in the case of cracked heels is often lacking. A moisturising cream will do a better job – look for ones that are urea-based from maximum effectiveness.
With a lot of care, many people can. Your first step is having your podiatrist remove the hard build-up of skin. Next, you’ll need to follow a good moisturising routine to help improve your skin’s hydration. You may also need to make some changes in your footwear and other factors like the length of hot showers (which dry out the skin).
For others, unfortunately, where their skin dryness is linked to an underlying medical condition, this may be harder – though it is very possible to significantly improve the state of your heels, nonetheless.