What Causes Cracked Heels? Top 5 Facts

Small cracks on the feet might look unattractive. The main problem arises when these cracks open up deeper become painful and start bleeding.

Walking around becomes painful with severely cracked heels1. Sometimes grabbing a bottle of lotion and lathering it all over your feet does not help. There might be other underlying conditions for your cracked heels.

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 What Causes Cracked Heels?

1. External Causes

Our feet are responsible for holding up our body weight; therefore, our feet have to deal with huge pressure. The skin on the heels is not very elastic and therefore cracks up under pressure. The other causes are:

  1. Lack of moisture and humidity.
  2. Wearing open-back shoes leaves your feet exposed to a dirty and dry environment. This accelerates the cause of cracked feet.
  3. Open-back shoes do not provide support to the back of the foot. This allows the skin on the heels(the feet pad) to expand, increasing the possibility of cracks.
  4. Fitting shoes can cause discomfort and lead to cracked heels.
  5. Spending long hours in a wet environment like the bathroom can lead to cracked heels as skin loses moisture and natural oils in water.
  6. Using hot water to bathe, rough soaps, and chemical body washes lead to cracked heels.
  7. Work that involves prolonged periods of standing leads to cracked heels because of continuous pressure on the feet.
  8. In the case of women wearing heels makes the footpad expand sideways, thus leading to cracked heels.
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2. Medical Causes

When normal remedies like moisturizing, and wearing covered shoes are not working to solve cracked heels, the reason might be underlying medical conditions like obesity, diabetes, and other skin problems.

At times like these, a doctor needs to be referred for a proper diagnosis. A doctor can guide you through the medical factors of what causes cracked heels.

Some of the medical causes of cracked feet2 are:

  1. Athletes’ feet could be termed as a major factor in what causes cracked heels. It is a fungal infection caused by fungi that feed on dead skin and nails. It makes skin jelly and itchy. It starts from the toes and spreads all over the feet leading to cracking heels.
  2. Erythrodermic psoriasis is another medical condition that can lead to cracked heels. This causes scaly red patches on the feet. A person’s genes generally play an important role in the development of psoriasis.
  3. Eczema is a well-known skin condition, and it affects the feet too. Symptoms of Eczema are generally dry and red itchy patches on the feet. It is generally caused due to allergies and damp feet.
  4. Diabetes leads to nerve damage that affects the body’s ability to control moisture and oil, leading to dry and cracked feet. Diabetes could be named a major factor that causes cracked heels.
  5. Obesity can be another factor that causes cracked heels. Heavy weight leads to increased pressure on the fat pad under the heel, leading to cracked heels.
  6. Aging can also be a factor that causes cracked heels. As our skin ages, it produces less collagen, the cell turnover rate is low, and the healing process is also slow; thus, our heels become more prone to becoming cracked.
  7. Women are more likely to develop cracked heels in comparison to men. Pregnancy in women could be a factor in what causes cracked heels. Women experience cracked heels during pregnancy due to added weight and hormonal changes.
  8. Also, after menopause, women are more likely to get a condition called ‘ acquired keratoderma’ that leads to cracked skin on the heels. This can be a factor in what causes cracked heels.
  9. The thyroid is often identified as a factor in what causes cracked heels. During hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland is less active and does not regulate the sweat glands on your feet properly, leading to thick leather-like skin, and dryness leading to deep cracks on the painful feet.
  10.  Juvenile plantar dermatosis, known as sweaty sock syndrome3, is another factor that causes cracked heels. It occurs in children between the ages of 3 to 14 years. It leads to scaling and painful cracks on the heels.

How To Take Care Of Cracked Heels?

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Dry cracked heels, if ignored and left untreated, could cause more serious problems. The open cracks could get infected and more vulnerable to fungi or bacterial infections. Therefore taking care of cracked heels4 while you can is better before it goes out of hand.

Taking care of cracked heels at home is easy:

  1. Moisturizing is the key to repairing cracked heels. Thick moisturizers containing agents such as urea salicylic acid, Alpha-hydroxy acid, or saccharide isomerate would be the best treatment.
  2. You can do a small pedicure at home by soaking the feet in lukewarm water with salt and shampoo in it. This softens the soul of the feet to a huge extent then you can use a pumice stone to scrub the dead skin cells.
  3. After this process is over, apply a thick layer of moisturizer and wear a cotton sock to lock in the moisture. The recommended time to do this pedicure is before going to bed at night.
  4. Liquid bandages or spray bandages could cover the cracked area of the skin, thus stopping dirt from entering the cracks. Since liquid bandages cover the cracked area, it helps the cracks heal faster than when they are open.
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Other factors to keep in mind

Along with taking care of your cracked heels, you should also keep in mind certain factors that could help you with getting softer feet and make your skin supple:

  1. A person should drink plenty of water to keep the body hydrated, thus avoiding cracked heels to an extent.
  2. Avoid wearing open-back sandals and try wearing shoes with a cover.
  3. One must not bathe in very hot water and use harsh chemical soaps and skincare with fragrance, alcohol, and retinoids.
  4. During dry seasons using moisturizer at least 3 times a day is a must, and one must cover their feet with socks made from natural materials like cotton and wool.
  5. Wearing cotton socks with shoes allows the skin to breathe and prevents drying out.
  6. There are times when moisturizing and taking care of your feet regularly with home remedies won’t work.
  7. When seeing red and itchy flaking skin and cracked heels and heel pain, the reason could be medical conditions like athlete’s foot, Eczema, juvenile plantar dermatosis, and psoriasis.
  8. At times like this, doctors need to be contacted immediately for further treatment.


Q. What deficiency causes cracked heels?

  • Vitamin C, vitamin B-3, and vitamin E deficiencies may contribute to dry, cracked heels. However, these vitamin deficiencies are rare in developed countries. Other conditions like athlete’s foot or eczema may also lead to cracked heels. Walking around barefoot and the natural aging process can be factors, too.

Q. Can lack of calcium cause cracked heels?

  • Research has shown there may be nutritional deficiencies that can cause this uncomfortable condition, including calcium, iron, and vitamin E. Mild relief may be found when the feet are soaked in warm water, followed by applying a good moisturizer.

Q. Is it OK to walk with cracked heels?

  • Painful cracked calluses on the heels make it hard to walk and increase the risk of infection since cracks open the door for bacteria to enter the body. If infected, cracked heels can turn into foot wounds, which can be hard to heal

Also read: Top 10 Fun Facts About the Nervous System

Infographic That Describes 8 Common Foot Problems You Should Know
Icy Health
  1. O’Grady, S. E., and H. H. Castelijns. “Sheared heels and the correlation to spontaneous quarter cracks.” Equine Veterinary Education 23.5 (2011): 262-269. ↩︎
  2. Ediriweera, Sujatha, et al. “A clinical Study on effect of paste of Haritaki in Padadari (Cracked Feet).” Journal of Ayurveda and Holistic Medicine (JAHM) 2.8 (2014): 2-5. ↩︎
  3. Arockiam, L., et al. “A Recommender System for Sweaty Sock Syndrome.” Advances in Computer Science and Information Technology. Networks and Communications: Second International Conference, CCSIT 2012, Bangalore, India, January 2-4, 2012. Proceedings, Part I 2. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2012. ↩︎
  4. Carter, Kate, et al. “A study to assess a cosmetic product in the treatment of cracked heels among diabetics.” Dermatological Nursing 12.2 (2013): 44-50. ↩︎

Last Updated on by ayeshayusuf


Sanmohita Pal

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