February 22, 2019
Ask the Experts

Healing Cracked Heels

by Berkeley Wellness  

Q: Why do my heels crack? What treatment do you recommend?

A: Heel cracks (fissures) may form in dry heels, which typically are also calloused. Though often just a cosmetic issue, they can be painful when you walk, and the fissures may bleed and become infected.

With age, skin becomes drier and less supple, and the fat layer that pads feet gets thinner. Standing for long periods in poorly cushioned shoes, wearing open-backed shoes or sandals, or being very overweight can all contribute to heel cracking. People with certain skin conditions (such as psoriasis or athlete’s foot), biomechanical foot problems, heel spurs, and flat feet are more susceptible, as are those with diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, and hypothyroidism.

You can try an over-the-counter product containing urea or salicylic acid, which softens calluses and helps shed skin. Other products contain enzymes that exfoliate skin and soften calluses. Using petroleum jelly or another oil-based moisturizing product daily, especially after bathing, helps prevent dryness; socks help seal in the moisture. Ointments are better at preventing water loss than creams. You can also try silicone gel heel protectors or specialized socks that gradually release hydrating oils. Heel cups, which redistribute the weight on your foot and support the heel pad, may also help.

For mild cracks, use a pumice stone to thin the callus. Soak your feet in warm water first. If the fissure is deep or bleeding, get medical attention. You may need prescription-strength medication and to have calluses debrided. Never cut or shave them off yourself. Elderly people and those with diabetes in particular should seek medical care for heel cracks, since they are at greater risk for developing infections and foot ulcers.

A crazy solution? Some websites, and even some doctors, recommend applying a dab of Krazy Glue or Super Glue to close a painful fissure. A small study in 2010 found that cyanoacrylate adhesive—the type of chemical found in the glues—completely healed the cracks in two weeks and was comfortable and easy to use. But we don’t think this is a good idea unless your doctor approves, and certainly not if the fissure is infected or if you have diabetes or know you are allergic to the glue.

Also see What Are Plantar Warts?