What Causes Cracked Heels?

Cracked heels are a condition that causes the skin on the heel to become thick, calloused, dry and eventually split. They can be caused by daily wear and tear on the feet, or by more serious conditions such as diabetes.
Sept. 23, 2009 - PRLog -- My aunt was always taking a pumice stone to her heels. The skin on her feet was consistently hard, dry and cracked.  (Like dinosaur skin, I thought.) Looking from her feet to my soft baby-skinned feet, I did not understand how the transformation happened.  

Cracked heels (also known as fissured heels) is a fairly common foot condition that develops for all sorts of reasons.  Some of us are simply genetically unlucky.  We may have naturally dry skin or a way of walking that applies extra pressure our heels. For others, it is a lifestyle problem.  People who spend long hours standing on hard floors build up thick skin that is prone to crack.  Open-backed shoes or sandals also can promote the development of fissure heels.  The fat on the heel is pressed sideways over the heel of the shoe.  This additional pressure can cause the heel to crack.

But sometimes the cause of cracked heels is not so pedestrian.  The dry, tough, calloused and split skin on your feet can be a symptom of more serious skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.  It may also be a sign that a person is overweight.  (The extra weight means more pressure on the fatty parts of your feet, and if the skin cannot take it, it will crack.)

But perhaps most serious is the relationship between diabetes and cracked heels.  The relationship is a double-edged sword: complications that arise from diabetes increase the likelihood of someone developing cracked heels in the first place; and if a person with diabetes does in fact develop cracked heels, the condition is much more dangerous for her than for the average person with dry, split skin.  

The reason that diabetics are prone to cracked heels is a bit complex.  Diabetes sometimes results in a peripheral neuropathy.  This means that a diabetic’s peripheral nervous system is damaged.  The peripheral nervous system controls many functions of the body, among them the automatic nervous system, which is responsible for such physical reflexes such as sweating.  Inactive sweat glands lead to dry skin, which increase the likelihood of the skin breaking.  Because diabetics are prone to infection, this type of split in the skin can be very dangerous.
Whether cracked heels are a minor annoyance or a serious medical complication, there are several things you can do to treat or prevent the condition.  Most people should feel free to tackle the situation in the comfort of their home.  But diabetics or people whose cracked heels result from a condition such as psoriasis or eczema should consult their doctor.

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