The skin on the feet is naturally dry.
However, skin on our feet does not contain oil glands, like that on the rest of the body.
This means that it has to rely on sweat glands, in order to keep the feet moisturized.
This can be a problem to people who fail to moisturize their feet regularly and properly, as well as those with various medical conditions like athlete’s foot and diabetes, which cause dry feet.
Anyone can suffer from dry feet. It can literally happen to anyone.
However, the problem is more pronounced in diabetics and older people.
Dry skin can lead to various conditions including redness, flaky skin, peeling skin, itchiness and the main one being heel fissures.
What are Heel Fissures?
Also known as cracked heels, heel fissures are linear cut wounds, which affect the surface of the skin, including the epidermis. Although the condition is mainly caused by dry skin, it can become more complicated, especially when there is thick skin surrounding the rim of the heel. Despite its seriousness, most people ignore this problem. Apart from making your heels appear ugly, the condition can worsen, leaving you with extreme pain. If not attended immediately, the fissures get deeper, creating channels that can be used to by pathogens to infect the body. Sometimes the skin can bleed and lead to extreme pain when standing or carrying large weights. These fissures can also make walking very painful, especially if left untreated.
What Causes Heel Fissures?
One of the main causes of heel fissures is dry skin. However, there are other major underlying factors, which are responsible for causing heel fissures. The major contributors of heel fissures are ill-footed footwear, wrong ways of walking, environmental and climate effects, and diseases and disorders. Obesity, flat feet and extreme dryness of the skin have been cited as the main causes of heel fissures. Other causes of cracked heels include:
Heel fissures have a high occurrence in senior citizens as compared to the youth. Sebum production tends to decline with age. This puts the senior citizens at a higher risk of developing dry or cracked heels.
Standing continuously, especially on hard floors can lead to cracks or fissures on your feet. Friction, combined with regular pressure will eventually lead to cracks or open sores. Such sores or cracks can bleed, causing additional pain. If your work entails standing for long hours, then you need to invest in the right time of shoes, which have adequate cushioning.
For overweight individuals, the simple act of standing can exert extra pressure on their feet. Additionally, excessive weight increases pressure on the fat pad under the heel. This causes the heel to expand sideways. If the skin is not supple and flexible, this pressure makes the heel crack.
Open Heeled Shoes
During summer, people often love relaxing in open-heeled footwear such as flip flops or sandals. It is more of a fashion trend during the warm months. Open-heeled and thin-soled shoes are one of the main causes of cracked heels. As much as you love wearing open-heeled shoes during the warm months, you need to know that they lead to foot expansion. Therefore, whenever you place extra pressure on the expanded foot, chances are very high it will develop minor fissures. With time, the minor fissures get deeper and more painful. Apart from that, wearing ill-fitting shoes exposes you to cracking, aching and bleeding on the heels. It is therefore important to ensure that you select footwear that fits properly based on your foot type. Also, make sure that your preferred shoes provide your feet with ample room for breathing.
Certain skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema can contribute to excessive drying of the heels. Psoriasis in particular leads to formation of thick scales around the heels. Such scales are at a higher risk of cracking when walking around or standing, as compared to normal skin. On the other hand, eczema can lead to scratching or crusting of the skin on the heels.
Cracked heels may not be an indicator of ill health. However, heels may crack as a result of certain disorders and diseases. Some of the most common diseases that might contribute to heel fissures include:
When the thyroid gland in the body is underactive, the sweat glands also tend to be inactive. This results to dry skin, which causes further cracking of the heels. Moreover, an underperforming thyroid gland affects the overall body metabolism. If you are suffering from hypothyroidism, the body does not perspire to the optimum levels, eventually leading to a dry skin. The condition eventually leads to heel fissures.
This is common medical factor, linked with heel fissures. Patients who are suffering from diabetes experience peripheral neuropathy as well as a high thirst rate. With improper foot care, callus can form faster. Apart from that, diabetics are at a higher risk of infections, if the fissures are left uncovered. It takes much longer for the wound of a diabetic to heal, as compared to healthy individuals. This can be attributed to the high glucose content present in the blood stream.
This skin condition indicates presence of fungus infections. Athlete’s foot can be attributed to insufficient foot ventilation together with poor hygiene. This foot condition mostly affects the toe area. However, as you try to avoid placing too much pressure on the toes, it will be transferred to the heels. The excess pressure might lead to heel fissures in the process.
Your cracked heels might also be a result of fungus infections. If you are experiencing abnormal scratching or a bad odor emanating from your feet, there is a high likelihood of fungus presence. Therefore, avoid sharing shoes or slippers with others, to avoid spread of fungi, which might eventually lead to cracking of the heels.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Heel fissured develop in stages. When one stage is not addressed, it eventually becomes worse. You finally end up with deep and painful heel fissures, preventing you from walking and undertaking various daily activities. One of the initial signs of heel fissures, is the formation of a discolored, and thick callus tissue, which may cause discomfort and pain when standing, walking or running. Once the callus is not treated, combined with continuous application of pressure, it develops into deep fissures. You might start noticing some bleeding on your socks or footwear. When this stage is not properly treated, it might lead to serious infections. The skin around the heels may start reddening, followed by severe inflammation. If you are suffering from diabetes, it is advisable to check your feet every day, since you might be developing these conditions. However, you might not be noticing them due to decreased feel due to the diabetes. Other symptoms include yellowing of the skin around the heels, peeling of the skin, and slow skin growth.
What are the Treatment Methods Available?
There are various treatment methods available for heel fissures. The applied method mainly depends on the extent of the condition. If you are suffering from cracked heels, you need to ensure that your feet are moisturized at all times. However, there are certain infections that might render your moisturization efforts null and void. Here are the common treatment procedures used for heel fissures.
Treating Athletes Foot
As highlighted earlier, heel fissures may be caused by this foot condition. If you have been applying tons of moisturizing lotions and the skin on the heel always appears flaky or dry, you might be suffering from Athletes Foot. During such a situation, it is advisable to apply an antifungal cream mixed with an emollient, applied two times per day, for around 4 weeks. If the condition seems resistant to this procedure, try an oral anti-fungal agent. It is very easy to control Athletes Foot. However, curing it is extremely hard. Moreover, if you are suffering from Athletes Foot and you wear work boots all day, ensure that you leave them outside to breath.
Manually removing heel callus
Manual removal of heel callus is another treatment procedure, which can be used to provide relief against heel fissures. You need to ensure that this procedure is only carried out by a qualified health professional. You should never attempt to do it yourself since you might worsen the situation.
In a situation where callus development is so severe, it is advisable to use a keratolytic agent. It should be apply at bedtime. The heel should using plastic bags and then covered with socks. This procedure helps to keep the area moisturized while allowing the medication to penetrate better. A keratolytic agent is used to dissolve the dry skin and hard skin. Certain individuals have sensitive skin. The unfortunate thing is that most emollients and creams on the market are manufactured using petroleum by-products. Therefore, they contain various synthetic additives, to change the smell as well as the consistency. If you are in this category, the only option available is all natural shea butter. It has been around for many years with great effectiveness. When you reduce the extent of the callus tissue, you are also minimizing the depth of the cracks. This makes it easier for them to close. Certain doctors recommend the use of glue to shut the fissure and reduce the pain. However, this is just a short-term measure that you should avoid completely. If the fissure is infected, you will just be shutting the pathogens inside, which may worsen the situation.
If the heel fissures are already infected, the area should be handled with care. If the infections are mild, you can apply topical ointments such as bacitracin ointment. It should be applied twice per day, using a dressing. Ensure that your work the medication directly inside the affected area. It will also soften the area, thus reducing the inflammation and pain to a certain extent. Oral antibiotics can also be used when the condition has become chronic. Avoid soaking your feet in boric acid or Epsom salt, since salts tend to draw moisture from the skin, leaving it dry.
Heel Fissures Home Remedies
Apart from the recommended treatment options, various home remedies can be help to alleviate dry or cracked heels. However, these home treatments should not be used to replace conventional methods, especially during chronic cases. Some of the most common home remedies include:
These are very effective in treating heel fissures. Other oils that you can apply include vegetable oils, coconut oil and olive oil. Clean your feet with soap first then rub the heels using pumice stone. This helps to remove dry skin. Proceed to apply the oils. Apply the chosen oil every night before you sleep, for around one week.
This is another effective home remedy, for alleviating pain caused by heel fissures. It provides pain relief within a short time after application. Mix the paraffin wax with mustard or coconut oil then heat gently to allow the wax to melt. Apply the liquid on the affected area and allow it to stay overnight.
This is yet another useful home remedy that helps to soften skin around the affected area. Clean your feet with lemon juice for around 15 minutes every day. Use a pumice stone to clean your feet. Follow this procedure for around one week.
Yes, bananas! They can be very effective moisturizers if used correctly. For your heel fissures, mash up a banana and then apply to the your cracked and dry heels. Let the mixture settle on your feet for up to 15 minutes, then clean your feet using warm water.
How to Prevent Heel Fissures?
Although it is easy to treat heel fissures using various medications and home remedies, this condition can be avoided. If you observe the following tips, and precautions, heel fissures will never be a bother.
1. Wearing shoes with good shock absorbing soles
2. Avoid wearing thin-soled and open-heeled shoes. If you must wear flip-flops, choose those ones good arch support and thick soles.
3. After a long day out, ensure that you soak your feet in hot and cold water alternatively.
Heel fissures is a common problem, which is not as hard to treat as it appears. There are various treatment methods available. You can also apply various preventive measures. Observe feet hygiene at all times, and make sure that you always wear the right type of footwear.