Fissures on your feet, also known as cracks, are splits in your skin.
Usually occurring on either the heel of your foot, the ball of your foot, or between your toes, fissures can be unsightly and annoying when mild, and painful and at risk of infection at their worst.
Most fissures on your foot will occur as a result of allowing your feet to consistently be too dry or too moist, for different reason. A dried out foot as a result of a dry environment and lack of moisturizing will lead to the skin losing flexibility and cracking in areas where it once stretched and twisted healthily.
Allowing your feet to become too moist on a regular basis, on the other hand, will lead to bacterial and fungal infections. It can sometimes be difficult to tell which problem you’re experiencing, as these infections and other secondary causes of cracks usually begin to look roughly the same as simple dry skin; ashy, flaky skin.
Fissures can also arise as a result of severe calluses and corns which lead the skin to split, or less commonly due to other skin conditions. Different root causes generally give way to different fissure areas: cracked heels are more strongly associated with simple dry skin, for example, while cracks forming between your toes usually point to a fungal infection as the root cause.
It’s easy to identify fissures visually on your feet, but figuring out the origin of your fissures requires more attention to detail. Shared symptoms for dry feet and infections include:
- Flaking and peeling
Symptoms more associated with dry feet include:
- Skin tightness
- Rough skin
- Lines and cracks
- Gray or ashy skin
Symptoms of bacterial or fungal infection include:
- Weakening skin
Symptoms of calluses include:
- Thick, hardened patches of skin
- Waxy or rough texture
The risk factors for fissures on your feet are best described in terms of the risk factors for dry skin, fungal infections, bacterial infections, and calluses for your feet.
- Physical activity. Increased physical activity due to sports, occupation, or hobbies increase your risk of fissures from all sources, due to environmental factors, increased risk of exposure to infections, etc.
- Age. Older people are at increased risk of both dry skin and various forms of foot infection.
- Climate. Climates which are dry, cool, and/or low humidity will contribute to an increased risk of dry skin-induced fissures, while warm, humid climates can predispose you to bacterial and fungal infections.
- Water. People who regularly get their feet wet and dry again will be at increased risk, i.e. working in wet environments without proper gear.
- Chlorine. Swimming in chlorinated pools increases your risk of dry skin on your feet. Swimming in general can be a source of fungal infections, so take hygiene seriously after a swim.
- Diabetes. Diabetics are at increased risk of all infections, and need to be alert to foot problems in particular.
- Foot injuries. Any foot injury which breaks the skin can increase your risk of serious infections, which can in turn lead to fissures.
To avoid developing fissures on your feet, you’re going to want prevent infections and dry skin.
- Socks. Good, clean socks are vital to preventing dry feet and infections due to excessive moisture.
- Shoes. Keeping your socks clean—and a good fit—will reduce your risk of infections, your risk of injuries, and even minimize your chance of developing fissures due to calluses.
- Hygiene. Good hygiene without excessive use of drying soaps is your best hope for preventing fissures on your feet. You want to avoid infections without drying out your skin from excessive cleaning..
- Moisturizing. Moisturizing your feet is a good idea even if you’re more worried about infections—especially if you’re cleaning frequently.
- Limit water exposure. If you’re prone to fissures due to infections or dry skin, limited the exposure your feet have to water can be beneficial. Wear good waterproof boots if you need to be in wet environments.
The best solution to your fissures is going to depend on the severity of the openings and the root cause. In most cases, treating the base cause of the fissure will be enough, with no need to focus on treating your fissures in particular. That means moisturizing your feet, anti-fungals or antibiotic ointments, or shoes that fit to prevent calluses. If your fissures are showing raw skin or bleeding, however, you may be at risk for more serious infections, and should see a doctor immediately to be safe.