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Foot Health / Problems
Ingrown Toenails

Ingrown toenails develop when the edge of your nail grows into the skin of your toes, causing pain, redness, and swelling near your nail. Ingrown toenails, though not a life-threatening health problem, can cause significant pain or discomfort in your affected toe. In severe cases, the infection caused by your ingrown toenail may spread into your toe bones. Ingrown toenails can affect any of your toes, though your big toe is most vulnerable to this health problem.

Condition Information

Ingrown toenails are a common problem and affect millions of Americans every year. Certain factors or habits may increase your likelihood of developing this health problem, including poor eyesight, physical limitations, anatomical quirks, and poor trimming habits.

Poor vision and an inability to reach your toes easily—two factors common among elderly individuals—can lead to improper trimming of your nails and ingrown toenails. Some people possess thicker-than-usual nails, which is another factor that may increase your risk for ingrown toenails. And poor trimming habits, including picking or tearing the corners of your toenails, and stubbing your toe may also contribute to this health problem.

Causes and Symptoms

Several factors are considered common causes of ingrown toenails, including improperly fitting shoes and poorly trimmed or untrimmed toenails. Shoes that are too tight in the toe box are particularly problematic and hasten the development of ingrown toenails. Shoes with tapering toe boxes place a significant amount of pressure on your toes, especially your big toe. You have an increased risk of developing an ingrown toenail if you regularly participate in athletic activities and you use shoes that that are even a little tight in the toe box.

Nails that are trimmed improperly are another major factor contributing to ingrown toenails. Toenails that are trimmed too short, especially on the sides of your big toes, may predispose you to ingrown toenails. If you trim your nails to taper at the corners, so that the arc of your toenail parallels the shape of your toes’ ends, you may be encouraging ingrown toenails. This trimming method may promote toenail growth into the skin at the side of your toenail because the nail edges curl down and dig into your skin.

Certain foot or toe deformities can also place stress on your toes and cause ingrown toenails.

You may experience any or all of the following symptoms if you have an ingrown toenail:

• Pain and tenderness along one or both sides of your nail
• Redness around your involved area
• Swelling around your affected toenail
• Infection of the tissue surrounding your involved toenail

Treatment

Conservative care strategies are often effective in treating or preventing ingrown toenails, although partial toenail removal by your podiatrist or other qualified healthcare professional may be required in some cases. Aggressive therapies, such as nail removal, may be required if you develop extreme discomfort in your affected toe or pus or redness that appears to be spreading. Diabetics or individuals who have impaired lower extremity circulation should be vigilant in monitoring the health and condition of their toenails.

The most important conservative care technique in preventing ingrown toenails involves the use of appropriate footwear, especially footwear that possesses adequate room in the toe box. Choose shoes, boots, and sandals that allow your toes to splay the way nature intended. See our Shoe List for ideas about appropriate footwear.

DR. RAY

In his 18 years as a podiatrist, Dr. Ray McClanahan has learned that most foot problems can be corr...
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