How to Prevent and Treat a Black Toenail from Ruining Your Runs

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As a runner, I know the struggles with black toenails, avoiding, and what to do when I get one. So today, I will write about my experiences, what works what does not, to prevent and treat black toenails.

The primary reasons for black toenails are as follows:

  • Repetitive trauma, which can be induced by running or wearing ill-fitting footwear, is a common cause of black toenails among runners.
  • Black toenails may be avoided by keeping your toenails short, scaling up a half size in shoes, or wearing a thinner sock.
  • In moderate circumstances, there is no need for therapy; the black nail will just go away. If you’re in a lot of pain, though, your doctor may be able to drain the blood from your nail, which will ease the pressure.

How to identify a Legit Black Toenail

You may notice that a toenail has become black, blue, or grey towards the end of a long-distance run and that your toe is swelled under the nail. A black toenail is the result of bleeding under your nail, commonly known as a subungual hematoma. Dropping something on your toe or slamming your toe against an object can also cause this.

Causes of Black Toenail

When you walk or run, your foot slides forward in your shoe, smacking your toes on the top, front, and sides with each stride. During a walk or run, your feet swell and are crushed by your socks and shoes. The pressure and impact might cause damage to your toenail beds or a blister under the toenail.

Your toenail will detach from the toenail bed as a result of the additional blood and moisture. The blood turns the toenail black, and the color of your toenail will most likely alter over time as it heals.

Toenail Trauma

Repetitive trauma, which can occur from running or wearing ill-fitting footwear, is the most prevalent cause of black toenails. This is most likely the source of a black nail that appears immediately after a workout or a day spent in too-tight or too-loose shoes.

According to Sutera, repetitive damage can range from minor (a tiny, painless black-and-blue discoloration underneath the nail) to severe (prominent, bleeding blisters between the nail and the nail plate). Dropping a heavy object (such as a dumbbell) on your foot can rupture the blood vessels beneath your nail bed, causing blood to pool beneath it.

Toenail Fungus

Black toenails can be caused by a variety of factors other than trauma. Sutera notes that fungal diseases, such as athlete’s foot, can spread to your toenails, turning them yellow, blue, green, brown, purple, and black. This color spectrum and the presence of subungual debris—a chalky white material that lines the nail bed and typically has a nasty odor—are both peculiar to fungus.

If you suspect a fungal infection, see your doctor, who can clip and biopsy a part of your nail to confirm the diagnosis. Depending on the severity of the illness, several treatment methods are available. Topical treatments are commonly used to treat mild infections, while more aggressive fungus may require oral medicine or laser therapy.

Be Aware of Skin Cancer

Sutera says that subungual melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer, may grow underneath the nail bed on the nail plate and produce skin darkening. It grows slowly and painlessly, which makes it particularly difficult to detect.

According to sports podiatrist Lori Weisenfeld, D.P.M., discoloration that spreads past the nail and into the cuticle is a warning indication. “If your nail is progressively changing color—especially if the color extends beyond your nail—you should have it looked out by your doctor,” she says.

Regularly-pedicured patients should inspect their toes for any new developments in between polish changes, according to Weisenfeld. Everyone should get their skin checked once a year by their doctor.

Skin Tone

Dark darkening of the nail bed is sometimes only a matter of skin tone. Sutera observes this more commonly in patients of color. “Underneath your toenails is skin, and the pigmentation may change over time just like skin anyplace else on your body,” she adds.

This sort of discoloration is frequently symmetrical and affects numerous toes. Both of your pinky toes, for example, may acquire discoloration of comparable size and form. A similar tint underneath your fingernails is another clear clue. These characteristics can help identify this benign black nail from more malignant black nails, which only affect one nail. Nonetheless, Sutera advises that a podiatrist or dermatologist evaluate any new or unusual color changes to be safe.

How to Prevent Black Toenails

Runners who run long distances or high-intensity sprinters are more likely to have black toenails than those just starting running and jogging. Even so, when you begin to ramp up, now is the time to concentrate on strategies to avoid them.

Clip Your Nails Regularly

According to Quinton Yeldell, D.P.M., creator of footcare firm Southern Hospitality, maintain your toenails short, clip them periodically, and make sure there’s a thumb-width spacing between the tip of your longest toe the end of your shoe.

Comfortable Shoes and Socks

Then look for wide enough shoes for your forefoot to fit comfortably without hitting either side of the shoe. According to Metzl, sizing up a half size in shoes or wearing a thinner sock can help relieve pressure and protect toenails.

Your running or walking shoes, as well as your socks, must fit properly. During a long-distance run or sprint, your feet grow a full shoe size, and your toes need room to expand into. The toebox must be large enough to accommodate your toes without being excessively large. The easiest way to ensure that your sports shoes fit correctly is to get them fitted at a technical running shoe store in your region. ​

Related: How To Choose The Right Running Shoes

Related: Best Running Shoes for Men & Women

Lace your Shoes Properly

Toes slamming into shoes can be avoided by lacing your shoes properly to keep your heel in the heel box rather than allowing your foot to slide forward in the shoe with each step. This is especially important if your exercise route includes both uphills and downhills, as this is when you will slip the most. ​

How to Treat Black Toenails

You do, after all, have a black toenail. Don’t worry. In moderate circumstances, there is no need for therapy; the black nail will go away. However, the subungual hematoma can induce discomfort in some cases—the more blood under your nail, the more it hurts, according to Metzl.

Draining the Black Toenail

If this is the case, see your doctor right away. They can use a needle to puncture a few holes in the nail to drain the blood, which will reduce the pressure and help preserve the nail. However, quick action is critical: the surgery must be performed during the first few days following the damage. So, if you’re in agony, don’t waste time waiting. ​

Also, please do not attempt to cure it yourself at home. This is a procedure that must be performed at a physician’s office. Despite what you may hear about it being a do-it-yourself technique, doing so might put you in danger of illness.

If the swollen and black toe persists after draining the extra fluid, consult a doctor to rule out infection.

If you care about your toes look, you can paint the black toenail, the new thin toenail, or the bare flesh. If you use a deeper shade of polish, most people will not notice the difference. While it may be tempting to cover up the discolored toenail with nail polish, do not do so—nail polish prevents the nail from breathing, and you risk losing it completely, according to sports medicine expert William O. Roberts, M.D. That’s a move to save for rare occasions, not every day. ​

If you have a blister under your toenail, you may notice that it is elevated, inflamed, and painful. It’s better to ignore this for at least 24 hours and see if it goes away on its own. If the nail is elevated and uncomfortable after 24 hours, no therapy is required. Nature will take its course, and you should sit back and watch.

If the elevated and painful nail persists after a day, you should seek medical attention. If your black toenail developed due to a toe being crushed in an accident, you should see a doctor have it examine for possible ailments. ​

Take the threat of infection seriously. This is a dangerous indicator if your toe continues to ache or gets worse. If you have diabetes, toe infections can progress to blood infections, gangrene, and even death. ​

Losing a Toenail

While lesser occurrences of a black toenail will grow out on their own, you will most likely lose it if the toenail is elevated. It may take a few weeks or months, but the toenail will finally push out the damaged, blackened toenail as it grows.

The black toenail is lifted off the toenail bed, revealing the healthy toenail below. Your black toenail will loosen from the sides over time, allowing you to cut it away.

Your toenail will be replaced entirely in approximately three months, and the new toenail will be wavy in some parts and thicker in others. Your toenail should go back to normal in four to five months. ​

How to Heal Black Toenails

If a black toenail rips and injures you, apply pressure to the wound until the bleeding stops. To avoid infection, use an antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandage. Do this after bathing every day until the wound heals, which should take one to two weeks. ​

However, in circumstances of recurrent microtraumas, such as running with your nails against your shoes, the nail might just come off without bleeding or open wounds. If this is the case, an antibiotic ointment and a bandage should still be used to prevent infection. Your nail bed should be less sensitive by the time the nail falls out, and the discomfort should be mild, according to Metzl.

Sometimes a new nail is already forming under it. “You should be good to run as long as it doesn’t hurt too much,” he says. It should take six to eight weeks for a new nail to grow in. ​

Long Distance Running has few words for you

Don’t be discouraged if your running routines pain your toes. It’s an indication that you should be more cautious while choosing footwear and lacing it properly. You could change your mind and realize that having a healthy body is more important than having nice toes. You should be able to have both if you pay attention to your footwear. ​

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