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Dupage Foot and Ankle, LLC

What are cracked heels?

Cracked heels are a common foot problem that are often referred to as heel fissures. Cracked heels are commonly caused by dry skin (xerosis), and made more complicated if the skin around the rim of the heel is thick (callus). For most people this is a nuisance and a cosmetic problem but when the fissures or cracks are deep, they are painful to stand on and the skin can bleed – in severe cases this can become infected.

What does a cracked heel look like?

The skin is normally dry and may have a thick callus which appears as yellow or dark brown discolored area of skin, especially along the inside border of the heel. Cracks in the skin are usually obvious.

What are the symptoms of cracked heels?

If the cracks are bad enough there will be pain on weight bearing, that is not there when weight is off the heel. The edges or rim around the heel will generally have a thicker area of skin (callus). Wearing open or thin soled shoes usually make the symptoms worse.

What causes cracked heels?

Some people tend to have a naturally dry skin that predisposes them to the cracks. The thickened dry skin around the heel that is more likely to crack is often due to mechanical factors that increase pressures in that area (eg the way you walk). Other factors that can be involved in the cause of cracked heels include:

  • prolonged standing (at work or home, especially on hard floors)
  • being overweight (this increases the pressure on the normal fat pad under the heel, causing it to expand sideways – if the skin is not supple and flexible, the pressures to ‘crack’ are high)
  • open back on the shoes (this allows the fat under the heel to expand sideways and increases the pressure to ‘crack’)
  • some medical conditions predispose to a drying skin (eg autonomic neuropathy in those with diabetes leads to less sweating; an underactive thyroid lowers the body’s metabolic rate and there is a reduction in sweating, leading to a dryness of the skin)
  • skin conditions (eg psoriasis and eczema)

Another way to look at it:

Consider a tomato on the bench … when you push on it from above, it wants to expand out sideways … eventually the skin cracks. This is what happens to the normal fat pad under your heel … as your body weight pushes down, the fat wants to expand sideways and the pressure on the skin to crack is increased. If the weight is excessive (eg prolonged standing) and the skin is not supple (eg callus and/or dry) and nothing is helping hold the the fat pad under the foot (eg open backed shoes) … do you get the picture?

Treatment options:

We provide a very simple treatment plan for cracked heels, usually on an outpatient basis. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Dupage Foot and Ankle, LLC