Do you always get bad cracked heels in the winter?
Or have pale grey splits only appeared during this cold snap?
Ragged dry skin that catches your socks isn't just a warm-weather thing. The crisp frosty mornings can coincide with piercing heel pain and thick yellow callus.
Though often painful and unsightly, this condition is easily treated.
While cracked heels are a year-round problem, they really ramp up in the depths of winter.
When the skin on the heels hardens and splits, it’s not just painful – it can be debilitating. And the deep fissures are unmistakable.
What are cracked heels?
Cracked heels starts from thick skin called callus that builds up on the back of your feet.
(The same skin that causes corns)
Callus grows here as your body tries to protect your feet from friction and damage.
What then happens is that yellow skin builds and builds, layer after layer. For a while it remains supple but when thick enough becomes extremely dry.
This lack of moisture causes the natural bonding of the skin to tear, rupture and split.
What causes it?
Remember that cracked heels are caused when excess friction on your heels splits the hard built-up skin there.
Some common causes of this are:
Signs and symptoms
The piercing pain from cracked heels usually appears out of nowhere. Most of the time people first notice their heels are dry.
They leave them, perhaps put on some cream here and there...
By the time winter has arrived in style their heels are covered in a pale, flaking skin. This may change color after showering to yellow, ripped with crevices and cracks.
Why do heel cracks appear in winter?
In winter, humidity is low and you sweat less.
There's a tendency to apply less foot cream as it's easy to assume your heels will take care of themselves.
Then there's the bigger, heavier shoes and socks. Each step landing with more friction on the rough fibers and thick backing.
Why are they so sore?
For some, cracked heels are merely uncomfortable. Others get a sharp piercing pain on every step.
This happens when tears and splits spread from the dry layer into the skin beneath.
This deeper, healthier tissue is full of pain receptors and blood vessels.
As each step makes contact with the ground, this sensitive wound is forced open and rarely gets time to heal.
Dangerous cracked heels ?
Dangerous may be too harsh a term, but if you have the following then pay extra attention to your heels.
If they're bleeding a lot: Heels that have become dry and thick can start bleeding. The deep cracks can accumulate bacteria, dirt and infection.
If you have diabetes: Type 2 diabetes can reduce your ability to notice pain. This can leave you not able to feel a wound and treat it.
If you have a arthritis: Painful cracked heels makes osteoarthritis more troublesome. Arthritis already force people to lean more on one side. Split winter heels adds to it.
One heel worse than the other
You may have noticed that one of your feet is a lot worse than the other.
This may also be accompanied by callus on the balls of the feet or sides of the big toe.
These are signs of a biomechanical issue; a term that Podiatrists use for the way someone walks.
How can I treat cracked heels?
In the first instance, try this simple cracked heel home treatment.
It helps a lot reduce the level of pain and smooth out rough, ragged skin.
File to level off
I recommend my patients file their heels before putting moisturizer on them.
This takes the really rough edges off and reduces thickness. After this, a good cream can get to work.
Pumice stones or foot files, it doesn't really matter as long as it's safe for you and has enough of an abrasive surface to remove the dead, yellow skin.
Cream to replenish
After taking off as much hard skin as you can, it's essential to let a good quality foot cream soak in daily.
Moisturize within ten minutes of bathing or showering, and leave it soak in for ten minutes after.
It's important this is a cream containing urea. Without urea, creams can't soak down and replenish any moisture your feet are crying out for.
A gradual process
The aim here isn't to immediately smooth out the splits and tears. It's to gradually allow moisture back in.
This will naturally soften the skin on your heel, in turn making it more flexible.
Over time, the cracks will become shallower and heal from the inside out.
Try the overnight method for faster healing
With your tube of urea cream and two pairs of socks, carry out the following steps:
Step 1 – Soak the heel of one sock in warm water and wring out. You should be left with with a damp heel area.
Step 2 – Rub the cream into your heel. Really get it in all the crevices, splits and tears in the skin.
Step 3 - Put the wet sock on first, then the dry one. Leave on and wear overnight to let the cream go to work.
But the splits are still there!?
You have to be patient with this (excuse the pun). It takes time for the skin to thin out and for urea to work it's way down.
You should notice a relief in the most painful symptoms fast, but the crack may take some time to even itself out.
When to see a Podiatrist for cracked heels
If after a few weeks, you're still getting that grinding sharp pain it's best to see a Podiatrist.
Sometimes, the fissure in the heel is too deep to be home treated. It may need some professional help.
We use surgical-grade instruments to painlessly remove hard callus build-up. This is usually followed by the use of a file that smooths over the remaining skin.
I can also assess any potential issues with your gait and your shoes.
Call on 07958733071 to start a treatment plan right for you.