Cracked heels, also called as fissures, can be unsightly but normally do not cause serious problems. At first, the main problem is simply a hassle and unattractive to look at, yet, when these cracks or fissures become intense, standing, walking, running, or any pressure exerted on the heel can be awful. Specifically when going barefoot, it may cause pain and sore.
A cracked heel is a typical foot problem and occasionally, it can infect severely leading to a skin infection known as cellulitis. This can develop in both adults and children, and appears to influence women more often than men.
What are the symptoms of cracked heels?
Other than unattractive physical appearance of the dry and cracked skin on your heels, you may also notice a few other symptoms.
During the beginning level of the cracked heels, they start to feel tight first when forced any kind of pressure. Severe dryness, intense itching and tenderness of the skin are probably the first symptoms of the cracked heels. Such signs symptoms can range from mild to severe.
- Soreness and discomfort, especially while standing and walking.
- Cracked area becomes yellow or brown in color which demonstrates the presence of callus.
- Itchiness in the affected area.
- Heels tend to be thicker and harder.
- Bleeding from the cracked skin.
- Open wound or wounds on the heels.
- Flaky skin
- Growth of bacteria at the flaky area.
- Inflammation, warmth, redness, and swelling may occur if there is an infection.
- Heel fissures can also develop deep ulcers (open sores) that can be distorted and lead to cellulitis (an acute painful skin infection).
Because of these harsh symptoms, preventing and treating heel fissures, whenever possible, is extremely important.
THE MOST COMMON CAUSES OF CRACKED HEELS
Your skin acts like a shield which protects you from outside dirt and other infections. But, in case, if it gets injured you won’t be able to treat it properly. Cracked heels can develop for a number of reasons, from badly fitting footwear or wearing open shoes that leave your feet exposed, to just a lack of moisture. Calluses are another major reason of cracked heels. Some other major causes of heel fissures are discussed below.
Lack of moisture
Cracks in the heels are frequently caused by the lack of moisture. These cracks can lead to even soreness and bleeding.
Insufficient moisture is the most contributing causes of cracked heels. The skin around your heels, especially, has a relatively small amount of sweat glands. As a result, it may loss elasticity and often become dry, rough and chapped.
Lack of essential vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, and potassium in your diet can unfavorably disturb your heel health.
Dry skin or maybe excessive dry skin, due to various reasons, is the major cause of heel fissures. It deficits major moisturizer causing lipids and feels severely dry to touch. The condition of dry skin may deteriorate due to hot water, dry weather, low humidity, and certain chemicals.
If you spend a lot of time standing at your workplace or at home, you are more likely to get cracked heels as perpetual force or stress can affect the skin on your heels badly.
Heel fissures most frequently occur in those with diabetes. This is due to the one of the consequences of diabetes on the body is deteriorated nerves, specifically those in the feet. These damaged nerves in the feet may not sense that they require sweating. This generally assists providing moistness to the feet. Do consult your doctor as these kinds of heel fissures can cause non healing foot ulcers.
Development of the patches is also one of the leading causes of heel fissures. The aging skin, when it becomes more dry, thick, or scaly, increases the risk of heel cracks. This is due to the loss of elasticity with overage.
More weight exerts the more pressure on the fat pad under your heels. Being overweight can affect your heels to expand sideways and, if the skin loses its elastic power, this puts extra pressure on your feet. Thus, obesity may lead to heels fissures.
Other health disorders
In case, you have been diagnosed with psoriasis, Athlete’s foot (Tinea pedis, a fungal infection), thyroid disease, rheumatoid, eczema, arthritis, scleroderma, hypothyroidism, diabetes and some other skin conditions, you are more likely to get cracked heels. In order to treat such heels, you should first treat your underlying diseases.
If you don’t keep your feet clean, it can be a major cause of cracked heels. Plus, using harsh soaps or soaps containing toxic chemical compounds, in particular, deteriorate the heels skin. Vigorous scrubbing can also contribute to develop heel fissures more frequently.
If your job is related to water or you just spend most of the time in excessive water, the skin on your feet may take away all the essential natural oils and can leave with extreme tightness, roughness, dryness, and itchiness. Also, standing in damp areas for prolonged periods, like in bathroom or pools, can bring about dry and cracked heels.
If you wear open-back sandals or shoes more often, it maximizes the possibility of cracks on your heels. These kinds of shoes may allow fat under your heel to swell sideways and result in Calluses. Uncomfortable shoe pads and walking with barefoot make the condition more worsen. Especially during summer season, take extra care of your heels when wearing open shoes or sandals. Other than open footwear, badly fitting shoes can also contribute to cracked heels and heel pain.
Genetics plays a much greater role in developing heel fissures. You may receive faulty heel cracking genes either from your mother or father. So, you can be genetically predisposed to dry skin and calluses around your heels, resulting in cracked heels.
What is the treatment for cracked heels?
The best form of treatment for heel fissures is to prevent cracks from developing in the first place. This can be achieved by several methods like rubbing the heels with a moisturizer on a daily basis to keep the skin hydrated.
The fissures may be healed with a gel, liquid, or spray bandage to alleviate pain, protect and allow more rapid treatment. You should inspect your feet daily and if you notice the very first sign of any skin cracking, you must opt a moisturizing routine at least 2 to 3 times a day. It will be enough to heal your cracked heels. Rubbing a pumice stone gently against the callus to remove some of the rough and thick hard skin, before applying moisturizer, will be an ultimate bonus to your heels treatment.
1. Urea-based products
Primarily, urea-based products function by preventing water loss through your skin. You may feel a stinging sensation when applied to heel fissures or other broken skin.
The most commonly used urea-based product is 10% urea cream. You can also consider a 10% urea + 5% lactic acid cream (Calmurid). But if you have severe fissures, it may be important to apply a product with higher urea content, for example, Eulactol 25% and Neat Feet Heel Balm 26%.
According to the expert pharmacists, a 25% urea cream reduces more pain, dryness, appearance of the skin, skin scaling and desquamation levels in just four weeks in patients with heel fissures.
2. Salicylic acid-based products
They work by breaking down the outer protective layers of your skin and can reduce the thickness of skin. These products are best applied to thickened, dry, and cracked heel skin and may result in stinging sensation when used on the fissures or other broken skin part if the dermal layer is exposed.
Salicylic acid acts as keratolytic (skin exfoliant) and decreases hyperkeratosis, heel fissures and pain when used on the heels as a 6% cream.
Salicylic acid is usually present in market as prescribed by dermatological base, such as, white soft paraffin and urea cream 10% (HealthE cream).
3. Alpha-hydroxy acids
These acids are a group of organic carboxylic compounds present in fruits, milk, sugar cane, and a few other natural products, like citric acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid. Common example of alpha-hydroxy acids used to exfoliate the skin and reduce keratinization includes QV Feet Heel Balm.
4. Saccharide isomerate
Saccharide isomerate compound is also called as pentavitin. This is the building block of Ellgy Heel Balm. Pentavitin functions as the best moisturizing agent which consists of natural carbohydrates present in the stratum corneum. Creams containing saccharide isomerate sustain a long-lasting moisturization and you cannot wash it off easily.
5. Petroleum jelly
This is an oil-based product, such as, vaseline, petrolatum, luberax, white petrolatum, and soft paraffin. Petroleum jelly is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons (of carbon numbers mainly greater than 25). Because of its healing properties petroleum jelly is known as a topical ointment. It reduces the loss of moisture and thus prevents heels from cracking and drying.
Other treatment options
Topical creams and moisturizing balms are sometimes insufficient if you have severely cracked heels. If after a week of self-treatment, you notice no improvement in heel fissures, this is better to visit a podiatrist. Some exclusive options that can be suggested to you may include:
- Heel pad, heel cups, and insoles are used to re-align the weight of your heel and provide better assistance (make sure to prevent the fat pad as it can expand the sideways).
- Specific tissues glue to hold in the edges of the cracked skin area together so it can heal rapidly.
- Strapping – bandage or dressings around your heel to help minimize the skin movement
- Debridement – undercut the hard thick skin of heels (you should not attempt this at home with the help of scissors or razor blade, your heels may start bleeding and there is a risk of cutting too much skin leading to infect it).
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