Cracked heels are one of the most common foot problems that podiatrists have to deal with. Affected feet are often unsightly and uncomfortable, but any experienced podiatrist will tell you that this condition has the potential to become far more than a cosmetic problem. Learn more about the causes and symptoms of cracked heels, and find out why it is so important to seek professional medical help to deal with this unpleasant condition.
Cracked heels generally develop as part of your body's natural defence mechanism. If you walk around barefoot for prolonged periods, you'll often start to damage the skin on your heels. As such, the skin will get thicker to protect itself. Further barefoot walking and/or rubbing will accelerate the process, and, over time, the skin on your heels will become extremely thick and cracked.
As the skin becomes thicker around the rim of the heel, the pad underneath starts to expand sideways under pressure. Eventually, this will cause the skin to split or crack. Certain situations can speed up this process. For example, cracked heels will develop more quickly if you are overweight or if you spend a long time standing on a hard floor.
Some people are at higher risk of cracked heels because of other medical conditions. Diseases and illnesses that can lead to cracked heels include:
People most at risk
Women are generally at higher risk of cracked heels because they wear sandals and shoes without socks. A 2012 foot assessment for the Institute for Preventive Foot Health found that 20 percent of American adults suffered from the condition. The rate in women was 50 percent higher than men, and the situation in Australia is similar.
Older people also tend to suffer the problem more often. In some cases, cracked heels can alert your doctor to a more serious underlying medical condition. As such, it's important not to ignore the symptoms, even if you think they are mild.
Symptoms to look for
The first sign of a cracked heel is a callus -- an area of dry, hard, thickened skin around the heel. This type of unsightly dry skin is often yellow or dark brown. Small cracks may start to appear over the callus, which, if left untreated, will grow deeper. Cracked heels are not always painful to start with, but as the cracks deepen, you may start to experience discomfort. Deeper cracks will sometimes bleed when you walk or place pressure on them.
Untreated cracked heels can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Heel fissures can also develop an infection. Some patients get a condition called cellutitis, which is a deep bacterial infection. Cellulitis can occur without a wound, but you're more likely to get the infection if you have cracked heels. Cellulitis was once often fatal, but most people now recover with oral antibiotics. In more serious cases, people with cellulitis need treatment in hospital with intravenous antibiotics.
You can treat mild symptoms at home. Soak the affected area for 10 minutes two or three times day in a solution of warm water and white vinegar or Epsom salts. You can then apply a medicated moisturising cream, although you should avoid applying these products to open cracks. Gently rub hardened skin with a pumice stone to take away some of the thick skin, and make sure you wear cushioned shoes and socks daily until the symptoms subside.
In more serious cases, you may need to consult a podiatrist. He or she may suggest various treatment options. These include:
Symptom prevention is always better than treatment. As such, if you are prone to the problem, you should moisturise your heels daily to make sure the skin stays soft and supple. You may also want to change the shoes you wear.
Cracked heels are unsightly and uncomfortable, but the condition can also lead to more serious complications. Don't ignore the symptoms of cracked heels. Talk to a podiatrist like Essendon Foot Clinic for more advice.
If you are like me, you have probably been in embarrassed in the past about having thick, yellow or otherwise unsightly toenails. You may have even suffered pain from your toenails. Those statements used to describe me, but with the help of my family and podiatrist, my toenails have returned to a strong, clear and beautiful state. The journey wasn't always easy, and it forced me to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research. As a result, I learned everything you can find in these blog posts. I see other people with painful looking toenails on the street, and I want to help them with some pointers, but walking up to strangers – however well intentioned – is a bit beyond my comfort levels so I decided to create this blog. I hope it helps and entertains you!