Cracked heels are not merely an aesthetic issue. They are linear disruptions in the skin structure that can arise from various causes and be of varying severity. These unpleasant, and sometimes painful, defects primarily form due to the loss of skin elasticity and thickening of certain areas. This process can be exacerbated by insufficient hydration, inappropriate footwear, and certain diseases like diabetes.
Cracks often form in areas of natural skin folds and stretching. This is due to the unique anatomy of the foot, where the skin is constantly subject to bending and pressure. According to statistics, about 20% of the adult population encounters this issue, especially during summer when open footwear contributes to the dehydration of foot skin.
Despite the majority perceiving cracked heels as a problem mostly linked to foot appearance, they can be more than just a cosmetic inconvenience. In some cases, they can cause significant discomfort – being painful, leading to bleeding, which increases the risk of infection. According to the WHO, around 10% of all skin infection cases arise due to cracked heels. Thus, what may seem like insignificant cracks at first glance can lead to serious health issues if left untreated.
Cracked heels can be a symptom of various diseases, including:
Diabetes: Increased skin dryness, including the heel area, is a common symptom of diabetes. High blood sugar levels can lead to dehydration, which in turn results in dry skin. Moreover, diabetics often experience impaired blood circulation in the lower extremities, which can also lead to dryness and thickening of the foot skin.
Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism, or insufficient thyroid gland activity, can manifest as dry and hardened skin, which can lead to cracked heels. In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland is unable to produce enough thyroid hormones, which play a critically important role in regulating many body functions, including metabolism and cell growth. Studies have shown that a deficit of these hormones can lead to reduced skin moisture, which can in turn cause dryness and thickening of the skin.
Hypothyroidism symptoms can be very diverse and may include fatigue, cold sensitivity, forgetfulness, depression, constipation, bloating, slow pulse, hair loss, weight gain, and as mentioned, dry and hardened skin.
Psoriasis: Psoriasis is a condition where skin cells renew faster than usual. This process can lead to the formation of dry, scaly, red patches, usually referred to as psoriatic plaques. They often itch and can be painful. Sometimes these plaques are found on the feet and heels and can cause skin cracks. Psoriasis affects approximately 2% to 3% of the global population, according to statistics from the American Academy of Dermatology.
In addition to dryness and cracked heels, other psoriasis symptoms include skin peeling, discomfort or pain in affected areas, and nail color changes. Some people with psoriasis may also encounter a joint disease known as psoriatic arthritis.
Eczema: Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that causes itching, redness, swelling, and dryness. The skin can become so dry and irritated that cracks form, which can be painful and cause discomfort. These cracks also increase the risk of infections, as microorganisms can penetrate through them into the skin.
Eczema is often associated with a genetic predisposition and usually manifests in early childhood, although it can occur at any age. Patients with atopic dermatitis often have a history of other atopic diseases, such as asthma or allergic rhinitis.
Fungal Infection: Fungal foot infections, particularly those caused by Trichophyton rubrum, are among the most common types of fungal infections in humans. They can cause changes in the skin, including redness, flaking, itching, and the formation of skin cracks.
The diagnosis of fungal foot infections usually involves a visual examination by a medical specialist, such as a dermatologist. They can analyze characteristic signs of fungal infection, such as skin peeling, the appearance of small vesicles, redness, or cracks.
In some cases, laboratory research may be required to confirm the diagnosis. This could involve microscopic examination of a skin or hair sample, as well as a culture study – growing the fungus in a laboratory for identification.
Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency: A deficiency of vitamin A, E, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc can lead to skin dryness and the formation of cracks.
Vitamin A plays a key role in maintaining skin health, supporting the process of cell regeneration and skin renewal. A deficiency in vitamin A can lead to dry and flaky skin, which can contribute to the formation of cracks.
Vitamin E is also important for skin health. It has antioxidant properties, helps reduce harm from free radicals and inflammation, and improves skin health. A deficiency in vitamin E can lead to skin dryness and the appearance of cracks.
Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial fats typically found in oily fish, nuts, and flaxseeds. They enhance skin elasticity and help prevent its dryness and flaking. A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to dry skin and cracks.
Zinc is a mineral that plays an important role in skin regeneration and inflammation. A zinc deficiency can cause dryness and skin flaking, which may lead to the formation of cracks.
Dehydration: Lack of water in the body can lead to skin dehydration, resulting in dryness and the formation of cracks. Dehydration occurs when your body loses or uses more fluid than it takes in. This can cause the skin to become dry, lose its natural moisture and elasticity, which in turn can lead to the formation of cracks on the heels.
Key symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, feeling of thirst, headache, dryness in the mouth, lips, and eyes, little urine output, and dark-colored urine. If you notice these signs, especially in combination with heel cracks, it’s important to increase your intake of water and other non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic drinks.
Potential Psychosomatic Causes of Heel Cracks
The psychosomatic causes of heel pain are associated with the symbolism of the legs and feet in our psyche. Legs symbolize the path to the future, and feet are our support. Therefore, any problems with the legs can be seen as fear of the future, unpreparedness or inability to move forward, as well as an indicator of internal instability of the personality.
Unexplained heel pain can be a result of internal anxiety and tension, which can be caused by stress, depression or other disorders, overexertion, suppressed emotions and desires, negative thoughts, dissatisfaction with life or one of its spheres, or intrapersonal conflict.
Calluses are the result of thickening and growth of the epidermis. In psychosomatics, the appearance of calluses is associated with the fear of moving forward. It is also a sign of suppressing dreams and desires, blocking the future.
Heel cracks can occur due to stress and can also be the result of a person’s dissatisfaction with themselves, an external reflection of their shortcomings.
Cracks in the heels signal a lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem. People with this ailment are unable to set and achieve goals, and they cannot decide in life. Heel cracks occur against the fear of failure, uncertainty about the correctness of the chosen path.
Psychologists recommend character correction for getting rid of heel spurs. It is necessary to cultivate kindness and tolerance in oneself, to curb the demand towards other people. It’s also important to stop asserting oneself at the expense of others, to get rid of perfectionism and pathological striving for victories, to eliminate excessive moralism, to think about personal needs but avoid excessive egoism, to review work regime, to avoid workaholism, to overcome dependence on the opinion of others, to overcome internal complexes and resolve internal conflicts, to review plans and goals for the future, values, landmarks, lifestyle, to develop positive thinking. Regular sports, drinking a lot of water, and monitoring nutrition are also recommended.
Different Types of Heel Cracks
Heel cracks can vary in characteristics and are classified into several types based on depth, skin condition, and their causes:
Superficial or Deep: Superficial cracks are minor tears in the upper layers of the skin, typically causing minor discomfort. Deep cracks penetrate deeper, reaching the dermis, causing pain and risk of infection. Deep cracks often require medical attention.
Dry or Moist: Dry cracks often occur due to excessive skin dryness caused, for instance, by insufficient hydration or lack of vitamins and minerals. Moist cracks, on the other hand, usually form on overly moist skin – a process also known as maceration. According to the World Health Organization, skin maceration can increase the likelihood of developing infections.
Infected or Non-infected: Infected cracks can cause pain, swelling, redness, and pus discharge, which are signs of a bacterial infection. Non-infected cracks usually cause less concern but can still cause discomfort.
Endogenous Causes: Include dermatological diseases (such as psoriasis or eczema), hormonal disorders (like hypothyroidism), gastrointestinal diseases, and deficiencies in vitamins or trace elements. An estimated 30% of heel crack cases are associated with endogenous causes.
External Factors: Include excessive rubbing or pressure on the heels, wearing uncomfortable shoes, prolonged standing, excessive humidity or dryness of the environment, and improper foot care.
How Ordinary People Tackle the Problem of Heel Cracks
Based on information from YouTube videos, comments, and forum discussions, I’ve gathered the most common tips and recommendations for dealing with heel cracks:
This might be surprising as pedicures and using pumice stones are typically recommended for foot care and callus removal. However, it’s crucial to understand that aggressive or excessive use of pumice or other callus removal tools can actually worsen the skin’s condition by causing irritation or even microtrauma. This, in turn, can lead to increased callus or crack formation as the skin thickens in response to damage.
Instead of aggressively removing calluses, it’s better to focus on gently softening and moisturizing them. This can be done with moisturizing creams and ointments, particularly those containing keratolytic ingredients such as urea or salicylic acid. These ingredients help to gently exfoliate calluses and moisturize the skin, which can help to reduce cracks and prevent new callus formation.
If you choose to use a pumice stone or other callus removal tool, do so gently and always moisturize the skin after the procedure. If you have existing cracks or other skin damage on your heels, it’s better to refrain from using a pumice stone until they heal to avoid further irritation or infection.
Using moisturizing creams or ointments with keratolytic ingredients can be very beneficial for dealing with heel cracks. Here are some additional tips:
Choosing a Cream or Ointment: When choosing a product, pay attention to its composition. Keratolytic ingredients such as urea, salicylic acid, and alpha-hydroxy acids (lactic acid, glycolic acid) help to exfoliate and soften the skin, reducing calluses and cracks.
How to Use: Apply the cream or ointment after a bath or shower when the skin is most pliable. This will help the product better penetrate the skin and moisturize it.
Socks: After applying the cream or ointment, put on socks. This will help keep the moisturizer on the skin and enhance its effect. You can do this before sleep, allowing the product to work throughout the night.
Consistency: For best results, apply the moisturizing cream or ointment regularly. This will help keep the skin on your heels soft and moisturized, preventing the formation of new calluses and cracks.
Choosing the right footwear can play a significant role in caring for the skin on your heels and preventing callus and crack formation. Here are some tips for choosing footwear:
Foot Support: Shoes should provide good support to the foot, particularly the arch and heel. This helps distribute the load evenly across the foot, reducing pressure on specific areas that could lead to callus and crack formation.
Correct Size: Shoes should be the right size. Shoes that are too tight can cause friction and pressure on specific areas of the foot, leading to callus and crack formation. On the other hand, shoes that are too large may not provide adequate support and stability, which can also cause problems.
Materials: Prefer shoes made of natural materials, such as leather or cotton, which allow the skin to “breathe”. Avoid shoes made from synthetic materials that can cause sweating and exacerbate skin problems.
Low-Heeled Shoes: High-heeled shoes can increase pressure on the front of the foot and the heel, leading to callus and crack formation. Prefer low-heeled or flat shoes for daily wear.
Shoe Rotation: Regularly change your shoes to avoid excessive pressure or friction on specific areas of the foot.
Orthopedic Footwear: If you have foot problems, such as flat feet, you might consider using orthopedic shoes or insoles, which can provide additional support and comfort.
Using super glue to treat cracks in the heels might sound unusual, but it’s a method some people use for temporary pain relief and to protect the crack from further irritation. It’s important to note that this is not a substitute for medical treatment and should only be used as a temporary solution.
Here’s how it works:
Clean and Dry the Area: Before applying super glue, make sure the area around the crack is clean and dry. This helps prevent infection and ensures better adhesion of the glue to the skin.
Apply the Glue: Apply a small amount of super glue directly to the crack. Be careful not to get the glue on the healthy skin around the crack.
Hold the Skin Together: Press the edges of the crack together and hold them for about 60 seconds until the glue dries.
Let the Glue Dry: Once the glue is dry, it will create a protective film over the crack, which can help reduce discomfort and promote crack healing.
Remember, super glue is not intended for medical use, and its application may cause irritation in some people.
Petroleum jelly and other petrolatum-based products can be beneficial for moisturizing the skin and preventing the formation of calluses and cracks. Here’s how you can use them:
After a Bath or Shower: Apply petroleum jelly or a petrolatum-based ointment immediately after a bath or shower when your skin is still damp. This will help seal in the moisture and make your skin softer and smoother.
Apply to Cracks and Calluses: Apply the product directly to areas with cracks or calluses. This will help to moisturize these areas and promote healing.
Wear Socks: After applying petroleum jelly or a petrolatum-based ointment, put on socks. This will help the product stay on the skin and enhance its effect. You can do this before bedtime, allowing the product to work overnight.
Apply Regularly: For best results, apply petroleum jelly or a petrolatum-based ointment daily. This will help keep the skin on your heels soft and moisturized, preventing the formation of new calluses and cracks.
Vicks VapoRub, known for its decongestant and cold symptom relieving properties, is sometimes used as a home remedy for treating cracked heels. Vicks contains menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus oil, which can help soften the skin and alleviate painful sensations.
The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only. The content presented on this website should be considered solely as opinions and personal experiences. Read more