Heel Fissures: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Heel cracks are typical foot issues that can affect both adults and children. Many people do not take cracked heels seriously. Of course, having deep cracks in your feet can make walking around painful and uncomfortable, but can they be a sign of a serious medical issue?

Let’s dive into what can cause heel fissures and how to treat and prevent cracked heels.

What causes heel fissures?

Cracked heels, also known as heel fissures, develop when the skin on the sole of your heel gets dry and hard. Additionally, the skin could start to flake or crust over. Cracks or fissures may appear when the skin becomes very dry.

In addition to the fact that the skin of your heels seems dry and cracked, you may also encounter the symptoms below:

  • Discomfort and pain, particularly while standing
  • Localized itching
  • Bleeding cracks
  • Rough skin
  • Infections leading to fever, redness, and swelling

Heel fissures often go through multiple phases. One initial symptom is the development of calluses on the skin of the heel. Calluses form as the fat pads beneath your heels expand in response to wear and tear, which may be seen as tiny fissures as the callus begins to break down.

Close-up of a person's feet with cracked heels on the beach

Other causes of cracked heels may be:

  • Standing for lengthy periods of time, particularly on hard surfaces, which may cause discomfort
  • Wearing shoes with no heel support
  • Walking barefoot
  • Being overweight
  • Having a chronic condition, such as diabetes

Deep cracks in your feet can make you more susceptible to infections, and diabetic foot ulcers are another risk if you have cracked heels.

Are cracked heels a sign of diabetes?

The start of diabetes may be accompanied by a wide variety of symptoms, some of which include an increase in thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, impaired eyesight, and very dry skin.

Diabetes also takes a significant toll on your feet, decreasing the amount of blood that flows to them and depriving them of nutrients and oxygen. This makes it difficult for wounds, blisters, and sores to heal properly.

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Because diabetes can induce peripheral neuropathy, some patients may also have numbness in their feet. Nerve damage caused by diabetes can prevent sweat glands in the foot from producing sweat. If your sweat glands aren’t working properly, your feet may start to feel dry and cracked. So yes, cracked heels can be a sign of diabetes, but it’s important to note that there are other causes of heel fissures.

How to treat cracked heels

Given how common cracked heels are, there is a wide range of remedies available. If you have mild symptoms of cracked heels, you can use home remedies to treat them. But if the situation is worsening day by day, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

Simply applying a little moisturizer to your heels two to three times a day can take care of minor instances of cracked heels.

If you’re not in any pain, and the cracks have just begun showing up, then you may be able to treat cracked heels with a home remedy. Some more solutions you might try at home are described below.

  • Moisturize with an emollient. Emollients are able to slow the rate at which water is lost from the skin. They can penetrate the deep layers of skin, leaving it feeling velvety smooth and supple.
  • Wear cotton socks to bed. Put some petroleum jelly on your heels before putting on socks to keep the skin there from drying out. For the skin to soften, you’ll have to keep doing this over the course of several days.
A woman wearing socks for cracked heels
  • Try a liquid bandage for cracked heels. All you need to do is soak the bandages and put them on your heels to moisturize them. There are also specialized 100% cotton socks for cracked heels that help you treat the cracks.
  • Put in some silicone heel cups to help the moisturization process and prevent the expansion of the heel pad.
  • Use a pumice stone to massage away part of the thick, dead skin. It is useful for thinning thick, calloused skin.
  • Ask your doctor about other treatment options. If your symptoms aren’t improving with at-home treatment, it may be time to see a podiatrist. They have methods for exfoliating the skin that don’t cause more damage or bleeding. They may also suggest using special tape or braces to keep the cracks together while they heal.

A liquid skin protectant is another option for mending broken heels. Like a liquid bandage, this helps shield the cracks and lessens the discomfort of walking on them.

To prevent further cracking of the skin when walking or standing, you can try special orthotic shoe inserts, which are available with heel cups. Furthermore, there are many creams for cracked heels on the market that you can use to lessen the discomfort.

Ways to prevent heel fissures

By adhering to a few simple steps that lower your risk of developing cracked heels, you may save yourself a lot of hassle and discomfort in the long run.

  • Avoid wearing open shoes or shoes that don’t provide enough support for your heels and increase the likelihood of your feet drying out.
  • Stay away from shoes with a thin heel since they might cause your heel to extend laterally.
  • Steer clear of shoes that are overly constricting.
  • Avoid standing or sitting with your legs crossed for an extended period of time.
  • Use thick foot lotion and sleep in cotton socks every night.
  • Examine your feet on a daily basis.
  • Put in tailored shoe inserts to cushion your heel and spread the weight more evenly over your foot.
  • Drink a lot of water to keep your body hydrated.

Final thoughts

Dry, cracked heels can be more than just a nuisance. If they’re left untreated, they can lead to serious problems. Fortunately, there are things you can do to take care of your feet and heal cracked heels. Start by applying lotion to your feet two or three times a day. For an extra boost of moisture, apply a thicker cream or ointment that contains petroleum jelly or oil before bed and sleep with thin cotton socks on.

Some moisturizers also contain skin-softening ingredients like urea, salicylic acid, or alpha hydroxy acid, which can help remove dead skin if used regularly. If home treatment doesn’t work, talk to your doctor about other options.

February 14, 2023