Updated: Feb 3, 2021
It's usually this time of the year we see a sharp uptick in cracked heels, and in this entry we'll look at the most common causes of this perennial problem.
First, take a look at the picture below. Even if you're a forefoot runner, when you're walking or running your entire bodyweight will land on your heel. And because it's mid-stride, that heel is taking the weight normally shared across both.
Common causes of dry skin
When you run, the combination of weight and pressure causes the skin to expand outwards; if the skin is dry then there's a chance it may start to crack. Causes of dry skin typically include obesity, diabetes, eczema and hypothyroidism, but at this time of the year the cold, damp conditions are also a good breeding ground for Athlete's Foot. Flat feet or walking around barefoot on hard floors are also a common cause of dry skin.
If you look outside, there's a good chance it's been raining. The cold, wet weather means heavier socks and thicker shoes or boots to keep the chill out, and this can make your feet susceptible to fungal infections. Conditions like ringworm or Athlete's Foot love damp, warm spaces such as shoes and socks that haven't been aired out.
If you don't have a medical condition such as Sjögren's Syndrome, or a biomechanical issue such as heel spurs or a collapsed arch, it's often a fungal issue that's the cause. If the dry, itchy skin is caught early enough then a simple over-the-counter cream or powder is often enough to address the issue. A good quality skin moisturiser applied every few days for your feet will also help keep your skin supple and give it the elasticity it loses in colder weather or with age.
For cracked heels, you should always use a urea-based heel balm or cream (don't worry, the urea is synthetic) such as Flexitol. The advantage they have over traditional moisturisers is that they help break down hard layers of skin, leaving your foot feeling much more supple. And while it's tempting to follow that Top 10 hack* and wrap your moisturised feet in clingfilm overnight for maximum effect, all you'll do is raise the temperature of your feet, starve your skin of oxygen and wake up with an unholy mess of clingfilm and heated oils across the bottom of your bed sheets.
Cracked heels are one of those things that our patients either panic at the sight of, or happily accept and even try to treat at home, long past the time to see a professional. Yet it's fairly easy to apply a little rain-repellent to your favourite shoes, dry them out thoroughly and get a nice pair of slippers to wear around the home. You can always pick up a good heel balm at the clinic (we'll advise you on the type most suitable for you) and of course if things get out of hand you should always come to see us.
Stay safe and warm
*From websites that really ought to know better