Feel like the cracks in your heels have come up out of nowhere this summer? You’re not alone. Cracked heels are a common source of frustration – from the dry ridges on the skin catching on socks, to the discomfort or pain when walking on the cracks, to their appearance in open-backed shoes that some try to hide.
While cracked heels are a common problem that we see year-round, it’s no coincidence that they ramp up in the summer. The good news is that cracked heels are usually easily treated, leaving you with smoother, softer, thinner and safer skin around the heels. Here’s everything you need to know about why cracks have appeared around your heels and how to say goodbye to the cracks this summer – and keep them gone through the year.
First: What Are Cracked Heels?
Cracked heels describe the cracks that develop in the thick, dry and rough callus that can build up around the heels. They may cover the entire heels or only be present around the edges of the heels. In order for cracks to develop, callus must form first.
Callus is a thicker protective layer of dead skin that develops over an area of skin that is exposed to excess pressure or friction, which can be from something as simple as long periods of walking. The body doesn’t want thin skin to break, so it creates natural reinforcement and protection. While callus can remain thick yet supple, it can also dry out to become firm and rigid. As firm skin is relatively inflexible, when exposed to more pressure, it can crack.
What Causes Cracked Heels?
Callus and cracks don’t happen overnight. Their formation is a gradual process that progresses over many weeks and months. Given that the trigger for callus and then cracks is excess pressure, the cause of this excess pressure may be from:
- Being on your feet for long periods, often
- Wearing hard, unsupportive footwear like thongs and open-backed sandals, or bare feet
- Biomechanical factors, meaning the way your feet and legs function, that result in more pressure on the heels
- Taking hot, prolonged showers
- Increased weight which increases pressure on the heels
- Medical conditions like diabetes
Why Do Cracks In The Heels Often Appear During Summer?
In the summer months, alongside the regular causes of cracked heels above, it’s often the heat and our footwear choices that are responsible for our cracks and calluses developing at a faster rate. The heat makes us lose water faster, increasing our risk for dehydration and dry skin. When we switch our supportive, enclosed shoes to thongs, sandals and bare feet, we lose the cushioning and support that our winter shoes were offering, adding to the pressure on our heels and exposing our feet to the elements – like sand at the beach and the firm pavement.
Why Are Cracked Heels So Sore?
While for some, cracked heels are simply uncomfortable, others may experience severe pain from the cracks. This is because severe cracks may extend beyond the outer layer of dry, dead and painless skin, and crack open the healthy living skin beneath. This can be extremely painful, and you may notice bleeding from the cracks. For others, ridges of the cracks can increase the pressure on the heel and have the same painful effect as if they were constantly walking on a pebble.
Are Cracked Heels Dangerous?
There are some circumstances where cracked heels can be dangerous. The first is from deep cracks that result in bleeding from cracking open the healthy skin beneath. Anytime there is a break in the skin, there’s a risk for infection. Given that deep cracks can accumulate dirt and bacteria, and can be difficult to clean and get to without professional help, this can leave you with an infection risk.
Others at risk are those with conditions like diabetes that impair your ability to detect pain and heal wounds. This can leave you vulnerable to not being able to feel a deep crack, so you don’t know that you need to care for the wound and help it heal.
How Can I Treat Cracked Heels?
By the time the callus around your heels has thickened, dried and cracked, it’s often too late to use traditional methods of managing mild callus and dry skin like moisturising your feet. The first thing you must do is have all the excess callus, as well as the hard ridges of the cracks, removed. This will bring your heels down to a softer, smoother baseline that you can then maintain to help prevent the problem from recurring.
Removing the callus and cracks is done safely and effectively by your podiatrist in one appointment – so you walk out feeling lighter and more comfortable on your feet. During this appointment, your podiatrist will carefully debride the hard skin by hand, using their expertise to remove the ‘problem’ excess skin but leaving the right amount of natural protection. They will then use a burr to smooth the skin, getting rid of any uneven ridges – and stop that snagging on your socks.
Through the appointment, we’ll check your heels for any underlying problems or infections that have occurred as a result of the cracks, treating these too. We’ll also discuss the likely factors contributing to the cracks, and can offer solutions to reduce the likelihood of the cracks returning, teaching you tips like using a urea-based moisturising cream over your heels, and choosing shoes that won’t encourage callus to form.
Ready To Feel Great On Your Heels Again?
While cracked heels can be frustrating, it takes only one appointment to see a significant difference in your heels and give you some much needed relief or comfort. Book your appointment with our experienced podiatry team by calling us on 1800 FOOT DR or book online.