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What Really Causes Cracked Heels and How to Heal Them (Part I)

WHEN SOMEONE EXPERIENCES CRACKED HEELS, WHAT’S OCCURRING WITH THEIR SKIN?

 

There are several reasons why people may experience dry, cracked heels. Our feet are responsible for holding up our body and therefore they withstand a tremendous amount of pressure. When weight and pressure are applied to the heels of our feet, the skin expands outwards. If our skin is dry, it becomes less elastic and rigid and therefore more prone to fissures and cracking. The most common causes of dry, cracked heels includes the following: medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, eczema, hypothyroidism, Sjögren's syndrome, juvenile plantar dermatosis, infections such as athlete's foot, biomechanical factors such as flat feet, heel spurs, or standing for long periods of time, particularly on hard flooring, and open-healed or poorly fitting shoes, as well as dry, cold weather. 

 

WHAT ARE THE TYPICAL CAUSES OF CRACKED HEELS?

Many people assume if they suffer from dry or cracked heels, they simply need to grab a bottle of lotion when the most common reason is actually an Athlete’s Foot infection. Most people don't have the medical conditions or risk factors noted above. Athlete’s Foot is a fungal infection of the foot that develops commonly on the soles of the feet and in between the toes. Athlete's Foot usually produces itchy, dry, scaling skin. In more severe cases, inflammation, cracks, and blisters may form. Athletes commonly suffer from sweaty feet and use the facilities where the fungus is found, thus the term "athlete's foot."

Athlete’s Foot is caused by a group of mold-like fungi called dermatophytes that feed on dead skin and nails. Athlete’s foot is closely related to other fungal infections, including ringworm and jock itch. These microscopic organisms live in dark, warm, and moist environments. Damp socks and the insides of shoes provide a welcoming environment for fungal growth and infection.

 

HOW COMMON ARE CRACKED HEELS AND DO THEY EVER REQUIRE TREATMENT OR ARE THEY ALWAYS HARMLESS? ARE THEY MORE LIKELY TO OCCUR AT A PARTICULAR TIME OF YEAR? 

When most of the above risk factors are ruled out, cracked heels are most likely the result of a fungal infection. If left untreated, it could move to the nails resulting in fungal nail and discoloration. In its early stages, cases of Athlete’s Foot can be treated with over-the-counter medicated powders, creams, sprays, or lotions that are specifically formulated to fight the athlete’s foot fungus. In moderate cases, a prescription topical medication may be required. In more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe an oral anti-fungal medication.

 In regards to the time of year, most people will have Athlete’s Foot or cracked heels in the winter because they wear thicker shoes and boots that air out less and may be exposed to more moisture from rain or snow. These infections are still common during the hotter months people go to pools and gyms more and often times walk barefoot in these locations.

 

Author
Dr. Miguel Cunha Dr. Miguel Cunha, founder of Gotham Footcare and a leading podiatrist in Manhattan, is a highly trained and skilled foot and ankle surgeon with experience treating a wide array of foot and ankle conditions from minor problems to complex reconstructive foot and ankle surgery. Dr. Cunha takes pride in having a genuine interest in each and every one of his patients while providing them the utmost compassion and exceptional care.

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