how to avoid painful, damaged toenailsDuring the winter you probably ignored your toenails, but now that sandal weather is here, you’re paying more attention to your feet, and you may not like what you see or feel. Today I’ll talk about the risk factors for toenail problems, 5 common toenail conditions, and how to avoid them.

Risk Factors for Painful or Damaged Toenails

If you walk you can develop a toenail problem. However, there are certain factors that can put you more at risk.

  • Running and other sports
  • Hiking and climbing
  • Previous nail trauma
  • Kids who outgrow their shoes
  • Adults who wear shoes that are too short or tight in the toe box
  • Going barefoot in shared facilities like pools and locker rooms
  • Older adults

5 Common Painful and Ugly Toenail Conditions

Toenail conditions don’t just look bad they can also be very painful. For example, the longer you wait to treat an ingrown toenail the greater the chance for infection and the worse the pain can get. Even fungal toenails may only start out looking bad, but after time your toenails can become thick, hard to cut, and painful. For these reasons, don’t ignore a toenail problem.

Some of the most common toenail conditions are:

How to Prevent a Painful or Damaged Toenail Condition from Developing

Cause: Poorly fitting shoes

Many toenail conditions have one thing in common—they’re more likely to develop if your shoes or boots don’t fit well.

This is true for young kids who are growing out of their shoes, adults whose feet have increased in size due to weight gain and flattening arches, and for athletes. Many people could avoid ingrown, black, fungal and/or deformed toenails if they purchased shoes or boots that fit well.

Wearing shoes that are too short or tight can result in toenails that hit the top of the shoe. The same is true for shoes that are too long or heels that are too narrow for the shoe—the foot can slide into the top of the shoe. When that happens over and over again, the toenail is more likely to get damaged and cause one of the conditions above.

While there are many reasons some athletes may get a poor fitting shoe or boot there are some athletes who may purposely purchase smaller sized footwear (eg. Rock climbers and soccer players). While these may work better for their sport, smaller shoes can cause many toenails problems.

Solution: Buy shoes or boots that fit properly

So how can you ensure you and your family are purchasing shoes or boots that fit well?

  • Get your feet measured – it isn’t just young children who need a larger shoe size –adults can also outgrow shoes due to weight gain and flattening arches. It’s also important to measure your shoe width.
  • Purchase shoes designed for the sport you engage in – it’s important to wear running shoes if you run, court shoes if you play pickleball or tennis, and so on. Wearing shoes designed for another sport won’t provide your feet and ankles with the support they need and may cause toenail damage as well.
  • Go to a store that specializes in your sport—if you run or hike go to a store like Super Jock ‘N Jill or REI to ensure you have a knowledgeable fitter.
  • Shop at the end of the day when feet are most swollen.
  • Purchase shoes that have a larger toe box.
  • Prevent your feet from sliding forward in running or other sports shoes by learning proper lacing techniques. Check out these videos for running shoes and hiking boots.


Cause: Increased moisture in shoes and exposure to fungus

It’s not just shoes that can be the culprit for toenail problems. So can moisture and increased exposure to toenail fungus. Reducing these factors can help you avoid developing toenail fungus.


Cause: Improperly clipped toenails

Cutting your toenails on the sides and not straight across can also increase your risk for an ingrown toenail.

Solution: Cut your toenails straight across.


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