Dry and Cracked Heels on a Patient With DiabetesIt’s not easy to keep the skin on your feet healthy. Your feet are either sweating inside boots and shoes or drying out in the open air in sandals. Our feet don’t have oil glands like the rest of our bodies to keep the skin moisturized, so they are particularly prone to becoming dry and cracked. Our heels often take the brunt of the damage because they are pressure points for bearing the body’s weight. When pressure is put on very dry skin, the skin can develop small cracks called fissures. If these fissures are not treated quickly, they can develop into deep cracks that can be very dangerous for people with diabetes. Our podiatrists take a look at how to prevent and treat heel fissures to avoid painful heel cracks.

Causes of Heel Fissures

While many of us regularly moisturize our hands because we see the dry skin right in front of us, we often forget about our feet. That’s too bad because our feet—and our heels in particular—are exposed to more forces that dry out and damage the skin than our hands. Some things that are hard on our feet include:

  • Exposure to dry air. While we might appreciate Oregon’s low humidity in the summer, the dry air is hard on our feet.
  • Long, hot showers. Believe it or not, water dries skin out, and hot water is especially harsh. Standing in a hot shower can be hard on the heels.
  • Standing for long periods of time. Jobs that require you to stand all day put a lot of pressure on your feet and heels. If the skin is already dry, the pressure of standing can cause cracks and fissures.
  • Being overweight. When your feet have to bear a lot of weight, the added pressure can also cause the skin on the heels to crack.
  • Wearing sandals. Exposing the feet to the sun and dry air allows perspiration to evaporate and the skin to dry out more than it would if you were wearing socks and shoes.
  • Diabetes. Diseases such as diabetes and thyroid disorders can cause dry and thickened skin, making you more susceptible to cracked heels and feet.

Avoiding these risk factors can protect your feet, but it’s nearly impossible to avoid dry heels completely. Paying attention to your feet and developing a skincare routine can help.

How to Prevent Heel Fissures and Cracks

Your feet might not be as visible to the rest of the world as your face and hands, but it’s even more important that you have a care routine for your heels like you do for these other body parts. Our foot care team recommends the following:

  • Keep your feet clean and moisturized. Use a mild, moisturizing soap to wash your feet in warm—not hot—water every day. After your bath or shower, use a lotion on your feet that is free of parabens and contains ingredients such as shea butter, mineral oil, or glycerin. 
  • Wear sturdy shoes and moisture-wicking socks most of the time. Of course, there are times when you need to be in sandals, but try to wear a sturdy, shock-absorbing shoe and a breathable, moisture-wicking sock most of the time. Orthotic heel inserts can provide additional protection.
  • Exfoliate your feet. Gently abrade callused areas on your heels with a pumice stone or other tool once a week or so.
  • Examine your feet for cracks. Most importantly, know what’s going on with your feet every day. Examine your heels and if you start to notice fissures forming, use more moisturizer and make an appointment at Northwest Extremity Specialists.

A care routine like this is even more important if you have diabetes. When a person with diabetes has heel fissures or cracks, they might not be aware of them due to peripheral neuropathy. Because diabetes can slow down the healing process, it’s vital that you avoid wounds on the feet because they can easily become infected and grow into a much bigger problem.

Call Us to Get Help With Dry Heels

Not everyone can easily care for their feet. If you have a hard time seeing your feet or bending over to cut your nails or put lotion on, it’s important that you see our team on a regular basis to help you stay healthy. Our board-certified physicians are available in our state-of-the-art facilities throughout the greater Portland area to help you get back on your feet. To schedule an appointment with the Northwest Extremity Specialists, call your nearest office or drop us a line using our online contact form.


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