Understanding the Causes of Cracked Heels: An In-Depth Analysis

Dr. Courtney Conley (DC, BS’s in Kinesiology & Human Biology)

Cracked Heels as a Common Foot Condition

Cracked heels, though seemingly a minor concern, are a prevalent foot condition that affects a significant number of individuals. These fissures and splits in the skin around the heels can cause discomfort, pain, and even lead to more serious complications if left unattended. Understanding the underlying causes of cracked heels is not only crucial for finding relief but also plays a pivotal role in their prevention and effective management.

Often dismissed as a cosmetic issue, cracked heels can have far-reaching implications on our overall well-being and quality of life. Beyond the discomfort they cause, these cracks can serve as entry points for infections, potentially leading to more severe health challenges, particularly for individuals with compromised immune systems. Thus, delving into the intricacies of what triggers cracked heels is essential not only to address the current condition but also to take proactive measures to avoid their recurrence.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive exploration of the causes of cracked heels. By examining both external and internal factors contributing to this condition, we seek to equip you with valuable insights that go beyond mere surface-level treatment. Let's embark on a journey to uncover the root causes of cracked heels, understanding their impact, and arming ourselves with the knowledge needed to maintain healthy and pain-free heels.

External Causes of Cracked Heels

The external environment can significantly impact the health of our skin, and the heels are no exception. External factors play a pivotal role in causing cracked heels, often serving as the catalysts for this uncomfortable condition. Recognizing and understanding these external triggers is crucial in adopting preventive measures and maintaining the suppleness of your heels.

Dry Climate and Harsh Environmental Conditions

The climate in which we live can have a profound effect on our skin. Dry air, particularly in arid regions, can strip the skin of its natural moisture, leaving it parched and vulnerable. Additionally, exposure to harsh environmental conditions, such as extreme cold or hot weather, can further contribute to skin dehydration.

When the skin loses its moisture, it becomes less elastic and more prone to cracking. Thus, it is imperative to shield your heels from the elements and ensure proper moisturization. Regularly applying a nourishing moisturizer can help create a protective barrier, preventing the skin from becoming dry and cracked.

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Inadequate Foot Care Practices

Neglecting foot care can have dire consequences, and cracked heels are a testament to this fact. Inadequate foot care practices, such as ignoring exfoliation and moisturization, can gradually lead to the development of cracks. Exfoliation helps remove dead skin cells that can accumulate on the heels, while moisturization replenishes the skin's moisture balance. Incorporating these practices into your routine can significantly reduce the likelihood of cracked heels. 

Note, calluses are also very common at the heels.  These can be protective of the foot as well.  It is important to identify when we should leave these alone or if they need to be addressed.  

Choose foot care products that are specifically formulated to exfoliate, hydrate, and nourish the skin on your heels, giving them the attention they deserve.

One product we love is Flexitol Heel Balm flexitol.com.

Improper Footwear Choices: The shoes we wear play a vital role in foot health.

Improper footwear choices, particularly those with open backs like sandals or open-heeled shoes, can lead to friction and pressure on the heels. This continuous rubbing against footwear can cause the skin to thicken and crack over time. Opting for well-fitting shoes with adequate space can mitigate this risk. Closed-back shoes provide a barrier that prevents excessive friction and pressure, helping to maintain the integrity of the skin on your heels. Remember, a small choice in footwear can make a significant impact on the health of your feet.

By acknowledging the impact of these external factors, you take the first step towards preventing cracked heels. Incorporating protective measures and proper foot care practices into your routine can help you maintain the suppleness and health of your heels, ensuring they remain free from discomfort and cracks. You can find our recommendations for footwear here.

causes of cracked heels

Internal Factors Leading to Cracked Heels

While external factors play a significant role in causing cracked heels, internal health conditions can also exert a considerable influence on the health of your heel skin. Certain medical conditions can directly impact the skin's moisture balance and overall integrity, making it more susceptible to cracking. Understanding how these internal factors contribute to cracked heels is essential in addressing the root causes of the condition and seeking appropriate care.

Medical Conditions such as Diabetes

Diabetes, a metabolic disorder, can have far-reaching effects on various bodily functions, including skin health. Individuals with diabetes often experience neuropathy, a condition that impairs nerve function. Neuropathy can affect the nerves that regulate moisture levels in the skin, leading to reduced sweat production and skin dryness. This dryness can make the skin on the heels more prone to cracking.

Moreover, diabetes can compromise blood circulation, further depriving the skin of the nutrients and oxygen it needs to remain healthy. 

Proper diabetes management is crucial in preventing complications such as cracked heels. Regular foot checks, moisturization, and seeking medical attention for any foot-related issues are paramount in maintaining the health of your heels.

Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid imbalances can also influence the health of your skin, including the skin on your heels. The thyroid gland plays a pivotal role in regulating metabolism, and disruptions in thyroid function can lead to skin dryness and reduced sweating. Dry skin lacks the elasticity needed to withstand pressure and movement, making it susceptible to cracking.

If you have a thyroid disorder, it's essential to work closely with your healthcare provider to manage your condition effectively. By maintaining thyroid health under medical supervision, you can help alleviate the risk of skin dryness and cracking.

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Fungal Infections

Fungal infections, such as athlete's foot, can weaken the skin's integrity and create an environment conducive to cracking. Fungi thrive in warm, moist areas, making the spaces between the toes and the heel's skin particularly vulnerable. Fungal infections can cause skin to become inflamed, itchy, and prone to cracking. To address this, it's important to use antifungal treatments as recommended by a medical professional. Additionally, practicing good foot hygiene, such as keeping your feet clean and dry, can help prevent fungal infections and their potential impact on your heel skin.

Yeast overgrowth can also delay the healing of cracked heels.  We recommend monitoring sugar intake as well as using creams such as Miconazole, which is a vaginal antifungal.

Understanding the internal factors that contribute to cracked heels is a crucial step in effective prevention and management. By addressing underlying health conditions and seeking medical guidance, you can mitigate the impact of these factors and work towards maintaining the health and comfort of your heel skin. 

Lifestyle and Behavioral Factors Contributing to Cracked Heels

Apart from external and internal factors, certain lifestyle habits and behaviors can significantly impact the health of your heel skin. These habits can contribute to the development of cracked heels and understanding their effects is essential for making informed choices that promote healthy skin.

Prolonged Standing

Engaging in activities that involve prolonged standing, such as certain occupations, can exert excessive pressure on the feet. This pressure can lead to the formation of calluses and cracks on the heels. Calluses are areas of thickened skin that develop as a protective response to friction and pressure. Over time, if left unmanaged, calluses can contribute to the development of cracks.

To address this, consider incorporating regular breaks to give your feet relief. Gentle foot exercises and stretches during breaks can help alleviate pressure and promote blood circulation, reducing the risk of calluses and cracked heels.

Improper Hydration and Poor Foot Hygiene

Proper hydration is essential for maintaining the elasticity of the skin. Dehydration can lead to dry and inflexible skin, making it more prone to cracking. Ensuring adequate overall hydration can have a positive impact on the health of your skin, including the skin on your heels. 

Additionally, practicing good foot hygiene is crucial. Washing your feet regularly and drying them thoroughly, especially between the toes, can prevent moisture buildup and the development of skin issues. Moisturizing your feet with a suitable cream or lotion can help maintain skin elasticity and prevent dryness.

cracked heels and feet causes

Excessive Weight and Impact on Heel Skin

Carrying excess weight places additional strain on the skin of the heels. The constant pressure and weight-bearing can contribute to the development of cracks. The skin's ability to withstand pressure diminishes when it is stretched beyond its capacity.

Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight is not only beneficial for overall health but also for the health of your skin. By managing your weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise, you can reduce the strain on your heels and minimize the risk of cracked skin.

Understanding how lifestyle and behavioral factors influence the health of your heel skin empowers you to make conscious choices that promote skin well-being. By addressing these factors through breaks, hydration, proper foot hygiene, and weight management, you can contribute to preventing cracked heels and maintaining the comfort of your feet.

Prioritizing Foot Care for Healthy Heels

In the journey to comprehend the intricacies of cracked heels, we've explored the multifaceted factors contributing to this common foot condition. By delving into both external and internal causes, as well as lifestyle habits, we've uncovered a comprehensive understanding of what leads to cracked heels and how to prevent them. Let's recap the key takeaways from our exploration.

Understanding Diverse Causes

Cracked heels are not solely a result of one factor, but rather an interplay of various influences. External causes, such as dry climate, inadequate foot care, and improper footwear choices, can lead to skin dehydration and friction, which in turn contributes to cracks.

Internal factors like medical conditions and fungal infections impact skin health, making the skin more susceptible to cracking. Lifestyle habits, including prolonged standing, dehydration, and excessive weight, can further exacerbate the risk of developing cracked heels.

Embracing Preventive Measures

The significance of understanding these diverse causes lies in the power of prevention. By recognizing the factors that contribute to cracked heels, you're equipped with the knowledge to take proactive steps in maintaining the health of your heels. Regular moisturization, appropriate footwear, hydration, and proper foot hygiene can go a long way in preventing the formation of cracks. Incorporating breaks, foot exercises, and weight management strategies also play pivotal roles in preserving the elasticity of your skin.

Seeking Professional Guidance

While adopting preventive measures is essential, seeking professional advice is equally important, especially if you have underlying health conditions or if cracked heels persist despite your efforts. Consulting a healthcare provider or a podiatrist can provide personalized guidance tailored to your specific needs. They can help you address medical conditions, offer treatments for fungal infections, and recommend appropriate skincare routines for managing cracked heels effectively.

If you are local to Colorado, please visit Total Health Solutions or Kinetic Chiropractic for treatment or if you would like to see a Gait Happens Clinician online, you can book an appointment here.

Finally, the health of your feet extends far beyond their physical appearance. Prioritizing foot care is an investment in your overall well-being. Healthy heels not only contribute to your comfort and mobility but also impact your posture and daily activities. By taking proactive steps to prevent cracked heels, you're fostering a foundation of health that resonates throughout your body.

In conclusion, the journey of understanding the causes of cracked heels leads us to empowerment through knowledge and action. By embracing preventive measures and seeking professional guidance when needed, you're taking strides toward maintaining healthy heels and enhancing your quality of life. Remember, healthy feet are the pillars of a vibrant and active lifestyle.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Causes of Cracked Heels

What causes cracked heels?

Cracked heels can stem from a combination of factors. External causes, such as dry climate, inadequate foot care, and improper footwear, contribute to cracks. Internal factors like medical conditions (e.g., diabetes), thyroid disorders, and fungal infections can weaken skin integrity, making it more prone to cracking.

Can medical conditions lead to cracked heels?

Yes, certain medical conditions can contribute to cracked heels. Diabetes can cause neuropathy and reduced skin moisture, increasing the likelihood of cracks. Thyroid disorders and fungal infections can also impact skin health and contribute to the development of cracks.

How do lifestyle habits influence cracked heels?

Lifestyle plays a role in cracked heels. Prolonged standing can lead to excessive pressure on the feet, causing calluses and cracks. Insufficient hydration, poor foot hygiene, and excessive weight can also make the skin susceptible to cracking.

Can improper footwear contribute to cracked heels?

Yes, wearing improper footwear, like open-back shoes or sandals, can contribute to cracked heels. These shoes create friction and pressure on the heels, leading to skin dryness and cracks. Choosing well-fitting footwear with sufficient space is crucial to prevent this.

How can I prevent severe cracked heels?

Preventing severe cracked heels involves several steps. Regular moisturization, exfoliation, and proper foot care can maintain skin hydration and prevent cracks. Managing medical conditions like diabetes and thyroid disorders is important. Seeking professional guidance from a healthcare provider or podiatrist can also aid in prevention.

Can untreated cracked heels lead to complications?

Yes, untreated cracked heels can lead to complications. Cracks provide entry points for infections, particularly for individuals with conditions like diabetes. Severe cracks can cause pain and discomfort, affecting mobility and overall foot health.

How can I improve foot hygiene to prevent cracked heels?

Better foot hygiene involves keeping feet clean and moisturized. Regular exfoliation removes dead skin cells, and moisturizers maintain skin elasticity. Thoroughly drying feet, especially between toes, prevents fungal infections. Proper toenail care is also essential.

Are there natural remedies for cracked heels?

Yes, natural remedies can help prevent cracked heels. Soaking feet in warm water with Epsom salt can soften skin. Applying natural moisturizers like coconut oil, shea butter, or honey provides hydration. Consult a healthcare professional for guidance if you have medical conditions or severe cracks.

Can cracked heels be treated at home?

Mild cases of cracked heels can often be managed at home with proper foot care, moisturization, exfoliation, and appropriate footwear. If you have medical conditions, severe cracks, or persistent issues, consult a podiatrist or healthcare provider.

Is there a connection between cracked heels and fungal infections?

Yes, cracked heels can increase the risk of fungal infections. Cracks offer entry points for fungi. To prevent this, maintain good foot hygiene, wear clean socks, and keep feet dry. If you suspect a fungal infection, consult a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.

Remember, understanding the causes of cracked heels is essential for prevention and management. If you have concerns about foot health or severe cracked heels, consult a healthcare provider or podiatrist for personalized advice.

Please note that the answers provided here are for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical advice. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan based on your specific condition.

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