Dry Feet and Cracked Heels

When you think about the wide range of medical issues a human can sustain, dry feet and cracked heels might not seem particularly important. However, excessive dryness can cause pain and pose the risk of greater damage when left untreated (especially for those who live with diabetes). Knowing how to prevent and treat dry feet can keep you safe and spare you from pain. There is good news in the fact that doing so isn’t particularly complicated.

Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors for Dry Feet

Common symptoms of excessive dryness in the feet or heels include fissures (cracks), calluses, peeling skin, itchiness, and rashes. In turn, heel fissures or cracks can cause pain or discomfort when walking or even standing. More concerning, though, they provide openings into your body that bacteria, fungus, and viruses can enter, which can lead to infection.

It’s important to be aware that skin dryness might be a symptom in itself of another medical issue, like athlete’s foot, thyroid disease, or diabetes.

Dry skin tends to more frequently be an issue with your feet than it does with other body parts. The primary reason behind this is that the skin on your feet does not have the oil glands found elsewhere on the human body. Instead, feet rely on hundreds of thousands of sweat glands to provide moisture. The problem with this is that sweat is not as long-lasting or effective as oil.

Other common factors that lead to dry skin include:

  • Excessively hot and/or long baths or showers
  • Non-moisturizing, harsh soaps
  • Low levels of humidity at home or in the office
  • Overexposure to UV light
  • Eczema, psoriasis, and other skin issues

Low levels of humidity are particularly concerning for those of us who live in California. Combined with wearing open-toed and open-backed footwear or flip-flops, many Californians are at risk for issues from dry foot skin.

Of course, not all individuals have the same risk level for excessively dry feet and heels. As you age, your skin has a diminished ability to stretch, which leads to the formation of cracks. This means that older adults are more likely to have heel fissures than younger individuals.

Abnormal gait patterns—like those caused by structural issues—and excess weight place additional pressure on feet, which in turn displaces moisture and leads to calluses. Those who have deficiencies of certain minerals and vitamins are prone to skin dryness and breakdown.

When it comes to diabetic individuals, dry skin is particularly concerning. The disease can interfere with the body’s ability to moisturize an area that is already challenged to keep from drying out. The cracks and fissures that accompany dryness increase the risk of infection, which is bad enough, but skin breakdown can create deeper foot ulcers. This is an especially dangerous condition; one that can ultimately result in amputation.

In order to ensure that a related condition is not present, it’s a smart idea to have one of our doctors physically examine your feet and, if necessary, perform tests to rule out the possibility of eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis.

Treatment and Prevention for Dry Skin

There is a certain degree of overlap when it comes to treatment and prevention methods. Conservative care for dry feet includes liberal usage of moisturizers (urea cream—which is one of the products we offer at our office—is exceptionally beneficial), pumice stone debriding, and bandages or coverings to prevent moisture loss and bacterial growth. Custom orthotics might also be used to treat the condition by redistributing abnormal pressure on the heel.

It’s important to know that we strongly advise against attempting to remove a callus or dry skin tissue on your own with the use of “home surgery.” Done improperly, this can cause excessive skin removal and greatly increase infection risk.

Sensible prevention steps you should consider taking include:

  • Limiting the time and temperatures you spend in the bath or shower
  • Using moisturizing soap instead of harsh, abrasive ones
  • Moisturizing after bathing or showering
  • Wearing closed shoes and socks that wick moisture and allow your feet to breathe, but also protect your skin from our arid California air

If you would like more information on dry feet, or need professional treatment for a particularly severe case, Far West Podiatric Medical Group is here for you. We are always ready to help you with any foot or ankle issues, so contact us today. Simply call our Hawthorne, CA office at (310) 675-0900 or use our online form to connect with us now.


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