Treating Cracked Heels

The winter is a tough time for your feet—all that hot, forced air can dry out your feet, and dry feet are prone to painful cracks. [The problem is also caused or worsened by extended periods of standing, carrying extra weight or wearing open-backed shoes.] Don't let sore, cracked heels ruin your holiday season!

While some cracks are just irritating, some can become serious medical problems—especially if bacteria makes its way into the openings. Left untreated, small crack become bigger and bleeding, pain and infection may set in. With a bit of prevention or early treatment, however, cracked feet won’t have to keep your from winter fun. Here’s how you can protect yourself this season:

  1. Drink more water

Dry skin starts with a dry body—and bodies tend to dry out a lot in winter, when we don’t feel thirsty but indoor heating reduces humidity from the air and leaves us parched. To help fight this problem, add an extra glass or two of water to your daily recommended liquid intake, and feet will fare better against the drying winds of winter.

  1. Lay on the moisturizer

If you already have cracked heels, or are simply trying to prevent them from forming, it’s always important to moisturize your feet. Consider once a day your minimum recommended application, but more is better. Ideally, you’ll slather some on when you first wake up, and right before bed. The moisturizer forms a protective layer on your feet that will assist your skin in retaining fluid, and may even draw in extra moisture to the skin!

It’s also important to choose one product and stick with it; changing lotions can throw your skin into reactionary mode, and may even result in a temporary increase in loss of moisture.

  1. Go strong—prescription strong

When your feet are already cracked—especially if the cracks are wide or deep—you’re not going to see improvement from over-the-counter producst. If that’s the case, come in to your podiatrist’s office for a prescription strength cream—most likely a product that contains ammonium lactate or urea cream. We can also check to see if underlying conditions, like fungal infections, are the reason your cracked feet won’t heal. Once we treat any secondary infections, your cracks are likely to heal up at a fairly rapid pace.

  1. Keep heels under cover

Open-backed shoes, like clogs or mules, leave your heels vulnerable to street debris and dry air—a combination that can rip your heels to shreds! It’s always a good idea to select closed-back shoes, but it’s particularly important to cover up your heels with protective footwear if cracked skin is already a problem for you.

  1. Don't pick or peel

I know how tempting it can be to peel or file away at loose hanging skin, but this is actually a very dangerous habit. Picking at dry or callused areas of your skin, especially since your “tools” and “clinic” are probably not sterile is a recipe for disaster—namely, foot infections! Try following the four previous steps if you’re noticing peeling skin, and if the problem doesn’t resolve, schedule an appointment with your podiatrist.

  1. Rock the right socks

Want to keep those feet moisturized all day long? There are special moisturizing socks designed to help you do just that! Lined with moisturizing agents like vitamin E, aloe vera and shea butter, they’ll wrap your entire foot in a warm, moist hug all the livelong day.

  1. Get to soaking

It’s important to note that you should only take this step if your feet show no signs of visible cracks. If your skin is just dry and flaky, try soaking your feet in warm water with Epsom salts or pre-packaged foot soaks. This is a safer—and slightly indulgent!—way to slough off that pesky dead skin.

  1. Call in the pros!

As with any foot issue, certain over-the-counter remedies may help prevent or even minimize symptoms, but nothing will replace the care of a professional. If cracked, dry heels are a persistent problem for you, it’s best to come into our American Fork podiatry clinic to find lasting relief!

Brandt R Gibson, DPM
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Podiatrist, Neuropathy Doctor, Father of 11 and Founder of Mountain West Foot & Ankle Institute