podiatrist examining dry cracked feet and heelsCracked heels, known as heel fissures, can be a common foot problem, particularly for individuals with diabetes. These fissures occur when the skin on the heels becomes dry, thickened, and begins to split. If you have diabetes, this seemingly harmless condition can lead to severe complications. Consulting an experienced diabetic foot care podiatrist at the first signs of cracked heels is highly recommended for proper diagnosis, treatment, and preventive care.

What Is a Heel Fissure?

A heel fissure is a condition characterized by the formation of cracks or splits in the skin around the heels. It often occurs when the skin on the heels becomes dry, lacks moisture, and loses its elasticity. The fissures can range from minor surface cracks to deeper, painful wounds. Individuals with diabetes are particularly susceptible to heel fissures due to nerve damage and impaired blood flow.

Heel Fissure Symptoms

In addition to seeing visible cracks on your heels, heel fissures can cause the following symptoms:

  • Pain and bleeding. If the cracks on your heels are deep, they can cause pain and bleeding.
  • Open sores or wounds. Heel fissures that develop into open sores or wounds can increase the risk of infection, especially for individuals with diabetes. 
  • Redness, swelling, or inflammation. If your cracked heels show signs of inflammation or infection, such as redness, swelling, or warmth, it is crucial to consult a podiatrist since it could indicate infection.

Potential Dangers of Heel Fissures

For those with diabetes, heel fissures can lead to serious complications if left untreated. Complications may include the following:

  • Foot ulcers. Deep, untreated heel fissures can progress into diabetic foot ulcers, which are open wounds that are slow to heal and prone to infection. For people with diabetes, foot ulcers can be particularly dangerous due to reduced blood flow and compromised immune function.
  • Cellulitis. Cracks in the skin can provide an entry point for bacteria, leading to cellulitis, a skin infection that causes redness, swelling, and pain. Cellulitis can spread rapidly and affect deeper layers of tissue, potentially leading to severe complications if left untreated.
  • Pain and discomfort. Heel fissures can cause considerable pain and discomfort, especially when walking or standing. This can significantly impact your mobility and quality of life.

Why You Need an Experienced Podiatrist

If you have signs of heel fissures, consult a podiatrist as soon as possible. A podiatrist will examine your cracked heels and determine the underlying causes contributing to the condition. They will consider factors such as diabetes, foot structure, footwear, and skin conditions to provide an accurate diagnosis.

An experienced podiatrist can offer a range of treatment options for heel fissures. These may include:

  • Debridement, which is the removal of dead skin from the heels
  • Prescription creams to moisturize and heal cracked heels and dry skin
  • Custom orthotics, such as heel cups, to wear inside your shoes to take pressure off your heels

A podiatrist will guide you on preventive measures to manage and prevent heel fissures in the future. They can educate you about proper foot hygiene, appropriate footwear choices, and regular self-care routines to maintain healthy skin on your heels. To prevent dry, cracked heels, you may want to consider the following:

  • Drinking more water to stay hydrated so the skin on your heels stays supple
  • Wearing shoes that fit correctly and are not too tight or loose in the heels
  • Avoiding sandals, high-heeled shoes, and walking barefoot
  • Making sure you get enough vitamins and nutrients in your diet
  • Applying lotion to your feet daily, but avoiding between your toes
  • Wearing socks to hold in moisture and protect your feet
  • Avoiding long, hot baths or soaking your feet
  • Using a pumice stone to gently exfoliate the heels of your feet
  • Checking your feet daily for any signs of abnormalities, open wounds, or worsening cracks on your heels

It is essential to schedule regular visits to a podiatrist to allow for ongoing monitoring of your foot health. They can identify any changes in your condition, provide timely interventions, and help prevent complications associated with cracked heels and diabetes.