You’ve probably seen pictures of dried, cracked earth in the desert. The ground can develop dramatic splits from the lack of moisture. You can almost imagine the dryness just from looking at a picture. Your skin can actually develop similar cracks if it becomes dry enough, especially on your feet—leading to painful problems like heel fissures.
Heel fissures are deep splits or cracks in dried, thickened skin around your heel. Like anywhere else on your body, the skin on your feet needs to have a certain degree of flexibility and elasticity to be able to stretch and move with you. Dried out skin is not flexible; it’s stiff and rough, without much “give” to it. Rather than stretching when it’s under pressure, it tends to split.
Your feet are naturally drier than elsewhere on your body, making them more vulnerable to issues like fissures. Instead of oil glands to keep them moist, your feet have thousands of sweat glands. However, sweat isn’t always a stable moisturizer. Outside factors, like age and pre-existing conditions, can also limit your lower limbs’ moisture.
Because your feet are subject to a significant amount of pressure, they are prone to calluses, which also dry out the skin. These built-up, hardened layers do not stretch very well. When too much force squishes the soft, fatty padding in your heel against the calluses around the back of the foot, the skin isn’t able to flex to accommodate the pressure. Instead, it cracks.
Cracked heels can be quite uncomfortable. Your feet may appear rough, flaky, and peeling. Sometimes, the area around the splits will be reddened and inflamed. If the fissures go deep enough, they may bleed, providing an opening for potential infections. This is a particular risk for anyone with diabetes or other conditions that impair the immune system. Fortunately, investing in the skin on your feet can help you restore your heels and prevent future splits.