ePodiatry Home
Podiatry Newsletter
Educational Resources
Podiatry Books  
Foot Problems  






Web site designers

Cracked Heels


What are cracked heels:

Cracked heels are a common foot problem that are often referred to as heel fissures. Cracked heels are commonly caused by dry skin (xerosis), and made more complicated if the skin around the rim of the heel is thick (callus). For most people this is a nuisance and a cosmetic problem but when the fissures or cracks are deep, they are painful to stand on and the skin can bleed - in severe cases this can become infected.

What does a cracked heel look like:

The skin is normally dry and may have a thick callus which appears as yellow or dark brown discolored area of skin, especially along the inside border of the heel. Cracks in the skin are usually obvious.

Dry cracked heel picture   Dry cracked heels picture

What are the symptoms of cracked heels:

If the cracks are bad enough there will be pain on weight bearing, that is not there when weight is off the heel. The edges or rim around the heel will generally have a thicker area of skin (callus). Wearing open or thin soled shoes usually make the symptoms worse.


What causes cracked heels:

Some people tend to have a naturally dry skin that predisposes them to the cracks. The thickened dry skin (callus) around the heel that is more likely to crack is often due to mechanical factors that increase pressures in that area (eg the way you walk).

Other factors that can be involved in the cause of cracked heels include:

  • prolonged standing (at work or home, especially on hard floors)
  • being overweight (this increases the pressure on the normal fat pad under the heel, causing it to expand sideways - if the skin is not supple and flexible, the pressures to 'crack' are high)
  • open back on the shoes (this allows the fat under the heel to expand sideways and increases the pressure to 'crack')
  • some medical conditions predispose to a drying skin (eg autonomic neuropathy in those with diabetes leads to less sweating; an underactive thyroid lowers the body's metabolic rate and there is a reduction in sweating, leading to a dryness of the skin)
  • skin conditions (eg psoriasis and eczema)


Another way to look at it:

Consider a tomato on the bench ... when you push on it from above, it wants to expand out sideways ... eventually the skin cracks. This is what happens to the normal fat pad under your heel ... as your body weight pushes down, the fat wants to expand sideways and the pressure on the skin to crack is increased. If the weight is excessive (eg prolonged standing) and the skin is not supple (eg callus and/or dry) and nothing is helping hold the the fat pad under the foot (eg open backed shoes) ... do you get the picture?

Dry cracked heel, tomato analogy

Self treatment for cracked heels:

Applying an oil based moisturizing cream twice daily is really important to get on top of this problem. A pumice stone can be used to reduce the thickness of the hard skin. After looking at the 'tomato' analogy above it should be obvious why it is important to avoid open backed shoes or thin soled shoes.

Never try to reduce the hard skin your self with a razor blade or a pair of scissors. There is a risk of an infection developing and taking too much off.

Check the sites below to buy products that will help you with self management. They all have emollients and pumice stones.

Book on Natural Foot Care to help treat the cracked heel. Click here...

Other recommended books on foot care:

The Foot Book - Relief for Overused, Abused and Ailing feet

The Little Foot Care Book


Podiatric management of cracked heels:

The podiatric treatment of cracked heels may involve the following:

  • investigating the cause of the problem, so this can be addressed
  • removing the hard thick skin by debriding it (often the splits will not heal if the skin is not removed). This may need to be done on a regular basis. Regular maintenance may be the best way to prevent the problem.
  • if very painful, strapping may be used to 'hold' the cracks together while they heal (a maintenance program after this to prevent recurrence is very important).
  • prescription and advice regarding the most appropriate moisturizer or emollient.
  • advice about footwear and self care of the problem.
  • insoles may be used to alter the way you walk to prevent the thick skin from developing (these are indicated in cases of heel callus and are not suitable for all cases).
  • a heel cup may be used to keep the fat pad from expanding sideways. This is worn in the shoe and can be very effective at prevention if used regularly.
  • on rare occasions some Podiatrists and Dermatologists have used a tissue 'glue' to hold the edges of the skin together, so the cracks can heal.

Links of relevance to cracked heels:

Find a Podiatrist here

Books on foot problems

Ask a question in the Foot Health Forum about the cracked heel

Foot care products

Podiatry Arena's threads on Heel Fissures


Buy products here to help a cracked heel:

USA & Canada:
UK & Europe:
Australia & NZ:
Return to foot problem or foot pain page
ePodiatry is purely a source of information on the cracked heel and should at no time be considered as replacing the expertise of a health professional. We recommend seeking professional advice for cracked heels and all foot problems before embarking on any form of self treatment or management for the cracked heel. Neither the content or any other service provided through ePodiatry is intended to be relied on for medical diagnosis or treatment. Do not delay in seeking health professional advice for cracked heels because of something seen on ePodiatry.
©2003. The information contained on this page about cracked heels is subject to copyright. No part of the information about the cracked heel contained on this page be reproduced in any form without the permission of ePodiatry.

Cracked heels

Site Map