What Causes Cracked Heels? 3 Potential Causes + Treatment

A common reason why people are reticent or embarrassed to take off their socks is that they have dry, cracked heels or cracks on the feet.

But, what causes cracked heels? What causes dry, cracked feet? Are cracked feet causes preventable? Are cracks on the feet serious? How do you treat cracked heels and dry heels?

In this article, we will discuss what causes cracked heels, if foot cracks are serious, and how to treat cracked heels or dry, cracked feet.

We will look at: 

  • Is It Bad to Have Cracks On Your Feet?
  • What Causes Cracked Heels?
  • Treatment For Cracked Heels

Let’s get started!

A person with cracked heels.

Is It Bad to Have Cracks On Your Feet?

Is it bad if you have cracked heels, or are cracks on the feet nothing to worry about?

Mild cracks in the skin on your feet generally don’t hurt, but as the cracks on your feet deepen or widen, it can become painful to stand, walk, and run

You may see bloody residue in your socks when you peel them off after a long day if your heel cracks are becoming serious.

Most importantly, while some people assume that cracked heels or cracked skin on the feet is merely a matter of aesthetics if you do not treat dry, cracked feet, the heel cracks or cracks on the feet can actually open up.

The skin on either side of the cracked skin on your foot will separate, causing a large crack called a fissure.

Fissures on the feet are not only painful but also leave you vulnerable to infections because the foot cracks can be deep enough that bacteria or fungi can enter your bloodstream through the cracked skin on your foot.

This sequela of cracked heels and foot cracks is more common than you might think because the environment in which the feet tend to exist most of the time—inside sweaty, moist, warm, dark shoes—is the optimal breeding ground for bacteria and fungal species to grow.

Therefore, if you are noticing scaly, dry, cracked heels or cracks on the feet, it is best to address them as soon as possible.

A person with cracked heels.

What Causes Cracked Heels?

Now let’s discuss what causes cracked heels or cracked skin on your feet so that you can implement prevention strategies moving forward.

Here are the most common cracked feet causes or cracked heel causes to be aware of:

#1: Dry Skin

The most common cause of cracked heels or foot cracks is a lack of moisture in the skin on your feet.

When the skin is dry, it becomes less supple and pliable.

The outer epidermal layers of the skin on your heel or foot will become more brittle and fragile, losing the natural elasticity and flexibility of healthy, nourished, hydrated, and moisturized foot skin.

This leaves the dry skin on your feet prone to breaking and cracking when you bear weight on your foot.

A person with cracked heels.

When you load your foot when you stand up, walk, or run, the fat pad on the heel and sole of the foot spreads out underneath your body weight, stretching the skin and tearing the brittle, inextensible outer layers of skin on your heel or the sole of your foot.

This causes cracks in the foot or cracks on the bottom or back of your heel.

So, what causes dry feet in the first place?

Anything that removes moisture from the feet can cause dry feet, which can then be a risk factor for cracked heels.

Here are some of the top causes of dry skin on your feet:

  • Cold winter weather
  • Not moisturizing your feet enough
  • Taking very hot showers or baths, particularly if you soak for a while
  • Dehydration or failing to drink enough water
  • Sitting in a sauna too long and too often
  • Walking around barefoot most of the time, particularly if you live in a dry climate
  • Advanced age
  • Using a pumice stone or scrubbing your feet too vigorously or too often
  • Insufficient fat intake in your diet
  • Using harsh soaps, scrubs, or bath products on your feet
  • Having diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, or some other condition that affects circulation to the feet
  • Obesity 
A person with cracked heels.

In addition to the cracked heel causes just discussed, there are a couple of notable risk factors for cracked heels and dry, cracking feet.

Aside from the hygiene and foot care practices listed, such as soaking the feet too long, using harsh products, and failing to moisturize your feet with an oil-based moisturizer regularly, the list of what causes cracked heels and dry, cracked feet noted diabetes and obesity.

Both of these medical conditions are risk factors for cracked heels and cracks on the feet because they impede circulation to the feet and/or place more stress on the fat pad of the heel, which can cause cracked heels even when your skin is only moderately dry.

Let’s look at why conditions such as diabetes and obesity can be risk factors or even causes of cracked heels or dry, cracked feet.

A person with cracked heels.

#2: Does Diabetes Cause Cracked Feet?

It’s important to establish that diabetes does not cause cracked heels or cracks in the feet, but it is a risk factor, particularly in cases where the diabetes is poorly managed and controlled, and blood sugar levels are consistently elevated or uncontrolled.

When the foot is not adequately perfused with blood, the tissues, including the skin, do not receive sufficient nutrition.

This can result in dry feet and cracks on the heel or sole of the foot.

Furthermore, when diabetes is not managed well, blood sugar levels can get too high too often, which damages the small nerves and blood vessels in your feet. 

This can cause dry skin in and of itself, which is why you often hear medical professionals suggest that diabetes itself is a cracked heel cause, independent of the other hygienic and foot care causes of cracked heels.

Moreover, particularly in the case of diabetes or other medical conditions that compromise circulation to the feet, incurring a heel crack or crack in the skin on your foot is more likely to lead to fissures.

This is because poor circulation to the feet makes it harder for the dry, cracked skin on the heel or sole of the foot to actually receive the healing nutrients it needs to repair the crack before the injury escalates.

This is why, for example, people with poorly-controlled diabetes experience slow wound healing on the feet, which sometimes advance to ulcers.

A person with cracked heels.

#3: Do I Have Cracked Feet Because I’m Overweight?

As with diabetes, obesity often appears on a list of cracked feet causes, but it’s not necessarily a cause of cracked feet but certainly a risk factor.

This is to say that just because your body is classified as overweight or obese based on body mass index (BMI) does not automatically mean you will get cracked skin on your feet.

However, the likelihood of experiencing cracked heels increases if you carry excess weight.

This is because if you have a higher body weight, the pressure or force of your weight pressing down on the fat pad of your heel will cause a more significant spreading of the heel pad.

Consider the case of two children sitting on soccer balls. A lighter child will depress the soccer ball and deform the spherical shape somewhat, whereas a big, heavy child will flatten the ball more significantly.

A person with dryheels.

The skin is designed to exhibit elastic properties due to the elastin fibers within the skin.

However, as mentioned, when your skin is dry, the pliability and elastic nature of your skin decreases, leaving the skin more fragile and brittle and prone to foot cracks.

Therefore, if you have a higher body weight and your foot isn’t proportionally larger, the squishing of the heel fat pad when you stand, will be more severe and expansive on either side of the normal shape of the foot.

This means that the skin will need to be able to stretch further to prevent cracked heels.

Therefore, even if your heel is just moderately dry, there’s a greater risk that the skin will crack because of how much stretch and stress is being placed on the tissue.

While certainly not universal, some people with obesity also have concomitant complications, including type 2 diabetes or poor foot circulation, which in turn, increases the risk of foot cracking.

A person putting lotion on cracked heels.

Treatment For Cracked Heels

One of the best comprehensive treatment kits for cracked heels is the ZenToes Dry Heel Repair Kit

This five-piece dry heel treatment kit has all of the cracked heel treatment supplies you need to help heal cracked heels and restore smooth, soft, healthy heel skin.

There’s a professional quality metal foot file to help file heel calluses, a double-sided glass pumice stone for removing rough and dead skin on your heels, and one pair each of blue fuzzy and gray cotton moisturizing heel socks that are infused with jojoba oil and vitamin E in a gel to help moisturize cracked heels and soften dry skin on your feet.

If you are a runner and would like some more tips on how to take care of your feet, check out our preventative foot care guide here.

Moisturizing foot socks.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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