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Help for dry, cracked heels

The skin is the largest organ in the body, and it is like a human shield. It protects the underlying tissues and organs from injury and getting dirty and infected. But it can’t work or protect properly, if it’s injured and not intact.

Cracked skin is a common foot complaint seen very often in the summertime because people wear lots of flip-flops and other open sandals. It can be painful, not very attractive, and often difficult to get rid of.

Cracked skin results from tiny splits that occur in dry, damaged skin. If left untreated, these tears can grow into deeper cracks, also known as fissures. A common area for cracks to appear is on the heel where it carries the weight of the body whenever you stand. Dry skin builds up here and eventually cracks due to pressure. Without regular removal of dry skin and a lack of moisture, cracked heels could appear more often, and get deeper and deeper.

Symptoms

In the initial stage of the condition, the heel starts to feel tight when placed under any kind of strain. Intense dryness, itching and tenderness of the skin are often the first signals of the problem. The affected area can turn yellow or brown in color and tends to harden significantly.

In its more advanced stage, the heel may become so dry that it turns white, yellowish or red in color, and begins to flake. Cracks can deepen making walking very painful and difficult. If left untreated, cracked heels may start to bleed and can become infected with bacteria.

Causes

Dehydrated skin is one of the biggest causes of cracked skin. Once moisture is lost, the heel starts to produce thick areas of rough skin as a form of protection. As a result, the skin is prevented from healing sufficiently. At the beginning, cracked skin may only feel like a light bother, but over time it will become more painful to walk on it if not treated. In more advanced stages, cracked heels can feel itchy, painful, and also begin to bleed from pressure.

Calluses are another major culprit of rough skin. These are patches of yellowish, thick, dry skin that grow over injured areas of the skin in order to protect it. If left untreated, calluses can also split under pressure. Open-back shoes are a major culprit when it comes to calluses as they don’t provide any support for the pad of the foot; barefoot walking and uncomfortable shoes also worsen the problem. The use of harsh soaps can dehydrate the skin and vigorous scrubbing of skin all contribute to the problem.

Other systemic factors that can contribute to dry skin include: a lack of minerals and vitamins such as iron, obesity, diabetes, and hypothyroidism. Chronic skin conditions like psoriasis can also cause dehydrated skin. Other reasons include: dry indoor heating, exposure to cold weather and problems with pronation of the foot.

Treatment

When it comes to cracked skin, taking care of your feet regularly is always better than cure. It’s important that you give your feet the same care and attention that you’d give the rest of your body.

Do not use soaps and other skin products that dry the skin. If you’re always pressed for time, soften hard skin quickly by soaking your feet in warm water. This is not for persons with diabetes.

Moisturizers

An effective way to prevent the formation of cracked skin is through the use of a moisturizer.

Skin moisturizer cream can help hydrate and soften cracked heels in just two weeks by improving the skin’s elasticity. Creams should be applied twice a day to clean, towel-dried skin by massaging it into feet until it’s completely absorbed. You can apply moisturizer at night and put socks on to help lock the moisture in to the feet. Special heel balms are available that contain descaling (keratolytic) or water-retaining (humectant) agents, such as urea or salicylic acid.

Foot file: Another essential tool in the fight against dry skin is a foot file which can be used to rub off dry, dead skin by removing it layer-by-layer until smoother, softer skin is revealed.

Shoes: It is best to wear well supportive closed shoes which provide support and help prevent the foot from drying out. If you must wear sandals, moisturize the feet well before and even during wear time. With closes shoes, wear ankle socks or footies to help keep moisture in the feet and prevent friction to the heel. Remember to wear shoes that protect and support the pad of the foot, and avoid shoes that are too loose or tight.

When to see a podiatrist

When the cracks or fissures are deep you may need to have them shaved and treated by a podiatrist. If no improvement is seen after a week of self-treatment, a visit to a podiatrist may be required. The fissures may be treated with a liquid, gel, or spray bandage to reduce pain, protect and allow more rapid healing. Debridement – cutting away hard thick skin (which should not be attempted at home using scissors or razor blades as there is a risk of removing too much skin and infection occurring.)

Strapping: Bandage/dressings around the heel to reduce skin movement.

Insoles, heel pad or heel cups to redistribute the weight of the heel and provide better support (prevent the fat pad from expanding sideways.)

  • For more information or to see a podiatrist visit Bahamas Foot Centre Rosetta Street, telephone 325-2996 or Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre, Albury Lane, telephone 394-5820 or email foothealth242@hotmail.com or visit www.apma.org.

 

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