What are the symptoms of cracked heels?


Cracked heels are a common foot problem commonly caused by dry skin, 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.


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 (e.g. 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)




Applying an oil based moisturizing cream twice daily is really important to get on top of this problem. A pumice stone or file can be used to reduce the thickness of the hard skin. Avoid open backed shoes or thin soled shoes.


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