Why Do My Heels Crack in Winter?

One of the most common problems in winter (even in Houston, where the mercury rarely dips below freezing) is dry, cracked heels—also known as heel fissures. There are many reasons why our heels tend to crack more in cold weather, even in warmer climates—we crank up the heat, drying up our skin; we make our showers warmer and longer, robbing our skin of moisture; and conditions like peripheral neuropathy (which affects circulation) may be made worse by sudden temperature drops. Loss of moisture and a decrease in blood flow can all contribute to cracks in the driest areas of your skin, usually your heels and elbows.

You’ll know that your heels are getting into potentially dangerous cracking territory if the skin in that area becomes thick and rough. Severe dryness may make your feet itch; you’ll likely notice some flaking of the skin and, if things progress too far, cracks may become deep enough to start bleeding. That can be particularly dangerous if you have diabetes, since any type of wound could put your foot health in peril.

That’s how to tell if you’re developing heel fissures; now, here are some tips to stop these cracks from forming.  Since you now know that feet get dried out in winter, stop problems before they start—apply a thick moisturizer like Vaseline once or twice a day to your feet.  When doing this routine at night, lather your heels up just before bed, then slip on loose, cotton socks to trap the moisture in while you sleep without cutting off circulation.

Try giving yourself a home pedicure—soak your feet in warm, soapy water, then slough off dead skin cells with a CLEAN (sterile) foot file. After the pedicure, give yourself a mini-foot massage, focusing on your heels and the balls of your feet, to help encourage better circulation. You should also focus on your daily water intake, since dehydration can cause or exacerbate heel cracks just like dry skin can.

Heel fissures can begin as an aesthetic problem, progress to an uncomfortable nuisance and, if ignored for too long, become a serious health concern. If you have cracked heels or other foot health concerns, schedule an appointment with your Dr. Andrew Schneider today. 

Dr. Andrew Schneider
Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.