Cracked heels, also known as heel fissures, are experienced by over 20% of US adults over age 21. More common in women than men, this condition is often nothing more than a cosmetic nuisance. Deep "heel fissures" however, can develop and be quite painful. In rare cases, heel fissures may lead to infection.
This condition is generally caused by dry callused skin around the rim of the heel. Prolonged standing (especially on hard floors), obesity (due to an increase in pressure exerted on the fat pad in the heel), and open backed shoes or sandals can exacerbate the condition. Certain medical conditions can also predispose people to dry skin and cracked heels. Neuropathy (associated with diabetes), psoriasis, eczema, and fungal infections are just a few of the conditions that can lead to skin dryness and increase the likehood of heel cracking.
The best treatment for cracked heels is prevention. Feet should be moisturized after showering with therapeutic emollients. Once dry heels develop, moisturizers containing humectants (water absorbing compounds like urea or lactic acid) applied twice daily may improve the condition. In addition, alpha hydroxy acid creams may help with exfoliation. Occlusive based moisturizers, like Petrolatum, applied at bedtime may soften calluses and help repair skin dryness and heel cracking. After showering, when the skin is soft, the use of a pumice stone, prior to moisturizing, to gently remove dry skin and callus may be beneficial. Deep fissures should be covered with antibacterial ointment to prevent infection.
Seek immediate medical attention should pain, redness, bleeding or swelling develop.
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