Despite being lightweight and affordable, flip flops have been known to cause a variety of foot problems such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, bunions, and blisters, to name a few. One of the main issues that are often associated with flip flops is cracked heels – but are they the actual culprits. Read on to find out if you should ditch our flip flops for healthier, crack-free feet.
Do flip flops cause cracked heels? Open-back footwear, including flip flops, can greatly increase the risk of cracked heels. The continuous exposure to air tends to dry out the delicate skin at the heel, resulting in calluses, and when combined with the pressure exerted when your feet pound the ground as you walk, it could lead to the development of heel fissures or cracks on your heels. Flip flops also let the fat that is located under the heel to splay out and expand sideways, consequently increasing the risk of developing cracks on these areas.
Other than being embarrassing, cracked heels can also be extremely painful especially when your skin starts to break and bleed. This leaves the skin exposed to fungal, viral, and bacterial infections such as athlete’s foot and plantar warts. Cracked heels can also limit your movements and make it hard to stay on your feet for extended periods.
Cracked heels are a common problem that can affect both children and adults. For many people, having heel fissures isn’t that big of a deal as it may only cause discomfort when they are barefoot. However, for others, heel cracks can be deep and cause a lot of pain.
How flip flops cause cracked heels
Flip flops are often blamed for contributing to the development of cracked heels, and with good reason. There are two ways through which these footwear types can cause this foot condition:
- Heel exposure to air – Due to how they are constructed, most of your feet is usually exposed when you wear flip flops, including your heels. Although leaving your feet open allows them to breathe, the prolonged exposure to air will cause the delicate skin on your heels to dry out. Constant dryness will lead to the eventual development of fissures on your feet.
- Lack of support at the fat pad – Flip flops offer little to no support to the feet especially since do not have a back that can keep your heels in place. When you walk in flip flops, your feet pound on the ground, causing pressure to build up and the fat pad that is found on your heel to splay out and expand sideways. This will cause the skin in this area to stretch and eventually crack to form heel fissures.
Signs of cracked heels
One of the first indicators of cracked heels is the development of hard, thickened skin around the rim of your heel. This is referred to as a callus, and the affected area may be yellow or dark brown. If the callus goes untreated, small cracks will become visible on the area. As you continue to exert more pressure on the heel by wearing flip flops, these cracks will deepen even further. Other common indicators of heel cracks include:
- Flaky skin
- Potentially severe pain on the heels
- Red, inflamed skin
Effects of cracked heels
If you have a severe case of cracked heels, you may end up developing complications that may be harder to treat. Complications often include:
- Skin breaking and bleeding – As the cracks on your heel continue to get deeper, the skin on the affected areas will start breaking, which may eventually lead to bleeding.
- Vulnerability to infections – When your feet have open wounds, they are more vulnerable to bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. Staphylococcus is a genus of bacteria that cause redness, tenderness, irritation, and swelling of the feet. A staph infection could cause a very serious health scare if the bacteria end up in your bloodstream, joints, or bones
Another common condition that is associated with cracked and irritated heels is athlete’s foot. This fungal infection is highly infectious and may cause itching and burning sensations in your feet.
Plantar warts are small growths that are caused by the human papillomavirus which you may contract if you have exposed wounds on your skin as a result of cracked heels
- Limited quality of life – In some cases, the cracks in your heel can limit your movements especially if they are painful or bleeding. This will prevent you from carrying out the activities that need you to be on your feet. Furthermore, cracked heels are a source of embarrassment for many people and may end up affecting the quality of life of those that develop them as a result.
Treating cracked heels
There are a variety of remedies that you can use to treat cracked feet:
- Apply moisturizers on the affected area – Moisturizers contain ingredients that will soften and exfoliate the dead skin found on the affected area.
- Humectant or emollient moisturizer – Emollients work by penetrating the skin and reducing further water loss. These moisturizers leave the skin smooth and flexible.
Humectants penetrate the upper layer of the skin and attract moisture from the air, consequently increasing the water capacity of the skin found at the heel.
- Occlusive moisturizer – Once the humectant or emollient has been absorbed by the skin, you can add a layer of occlusive moisturizer to seal in the moisturizer. Occlusive moisturizers are effective in coating the skin to prevent moisture evaporation from the skin. The most common occlusive moisturizers include petroleum jelly, mineral oil, and lanolin.
- Soaking and exfoliating – The skin around cracked heels is typically drier and thicker than other areas of the skin. Soaking and exfoliating your feet may help to reduce the splitting in these areas. For an effective soak, dip your feet in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes. Scrub them using a pumice stone, foot scrubber, or loofah to get rid of hard, thick skin. Once you get rid of the visible flakes, pat your feet dry. Apply a heel balm to the affected area then and then add a layer of petroleum jelly to lock the moisture in. never scrub your feet before soaking them as this will only increase the risk of damage.
- Liquid bandage – Liquid, spray, or gel bandages can be applied to heel cracks to seal the wounds and consequently reduce the risk of infections, reduce pain, and help the cracks heal faster. Unlike with standard bandages, you don’t have to worry about a liquid bandage coming off, so you can go about your day. Always apply liquid bandage after you wash and dry your feet.
- Cotton socks and petroleum jelly – Another way you can treat cracked heels is by wearing 100% cotton socks after applying a moisturizer such as petroleum jelly. Socks can help to seal moisture in while allowing the skin at the heel to breathe at the same time. When you repeat this routine daily, your heels will soften and the cracks will eventually fade.
- Natural remedies – Coconut oil is a natural remedy that is often recommended for use on dry skin as it helps the skin to retain moisture. It also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that will help cracked feet that are prone to bleeding and infections.
Research shows that using honey on cracked heels can help to moisturize dry skin and cleanse wounds. You can apply honey as a foot mask or use it as a foot scrub after you soak your feet in warm water.
Other issues associated with wearing flip flops
Other than cracked heels, other conditions that are associated with flip flop wear include:
- Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis – Since flip flops lack adequate cushioning and shock absorption properties, they can cause the excessive straining of the plantar fascia. This will cause the heel to painfully inflame, a condition known as plantar fasciitis. Heel spurs are bony protrusions that tend to develop with the recurrence of plantar fasciitis. They are often painful and can even affect your movements.
- Pains in the knee, back, and hip – When you walk in flip flops, you are forced to shorten your strides. This can cause strain in your hips, lower back, and knees, consequently, causing pain and stiffness in these areas.
- Hammertoe – To be able to walk properly in flip flops, you have to scrunch your toes so that they stay on your feet. In the long run, this could cause damage to your feet and result in a condition that is referred to as hammertoe, where the affected toes bend downward permanently.
- Bunions – Bunions tend to develop as a result of over gripping to keep flip flops on your feet. Bunions can be extremely painful and limit your ability to walk for long distances.
Flip flops are undoubtedly one of the leading causes of cracked heels. Although there are many treatment options you can use to curb fissure on your heel, consider avoiding flip flops altogether to prevent their development. If this is not an option, try wearing them only when you don’t expect to walk long distances or carry out intensive activities. In such cases, opt to go for flip flops that come with extra padding and arch support so that your feet are adequately protected.