Bringing an End to Black Toenails

Any form of physical activity is bound to come with the risk of injury, and running is certainly no exception. Sure, it’s an excellent form of exercise and provides an array of health benefits, but the more miles you put in, the more you increase your chances of experiencing stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and even toenail issues. Fortunately most of these conditions can be treated effectively, but no one wants to sustain an injury, not even black toenails. If you are noticing your nails are becoming discolored, it can be beneficial to understand why.

If you look down at your toenails and see anything other than a clear coating over flesh-colored skin then something is clearly wrong. When you see black toenails, it usually means that you have blood between your toenail bed and the nail itself, which is a condition known as subungual hematoma.

The most apparent symptom of this condition is, naturally, the noticeable discoloration. This may consist of either a reddish, purplish, brownish, or black coloring. Other symptoms that may possibly exist include pain, swelling, foul odor, and discharge from underneath the nail. The blood that collects there can also cause the nail to separate from its bed.

What’s Behind the Black

Black toenails are commonly found on runners who train long distances, logging a lot of miles in their workout programs. Some runners even consider them to be a “badge of honor” of sorts. This condition is prevalent in the running community because it is caused by trauma, including persistent rubbing or jamming of a toe against the front of a shoe. Blisters are your body’s natural defense against such friction, and that’s what subungual hematoma is—a blood blister forming under your toenail.

There are other, non-running related causes, including fungal infection, injury to the affected toe, ill-fitting or excessively tight shoes, and, in extremely rare circumstances, malignant melanoma.

Treating Troubled Toenails

Treating black toenails often comes down to simply letting nature run its course. In many cases, the affected toenail will simply fall off on its own in time and grow back in a normal fashion. Since this is not guaranteed, the smart move is to see the professionals at Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists. We may need to perform a procedure to remove pressure from underneath the nail by draining the built-up blood, or removing the nail and cleaning the affected area. However, first we will evaluate your specific condition before deciding on an effective treatment plan.

The good news about this condition is that there are a variety of measures that can be taken to help prevent it from happening in the first place. These include:

  • Wear shoes that fit properly. This is a prevention measure for an array of foot conditions and one that runners especially should embrace. Keep in mind that your running shoes should be a half size larger than your street shoes and provide plenty of room in the toe box. Be careful that they are not too loose, though, as that can cause other problems.
  • Keep your toenails properly trimmed. Take care that nails are neither too short, nor too long (keep them even with the front of your toes). Also, they should be clipped straight across and not rounded.
  • Be careful when handling heavy objects. Dropping something on your toe can lead to a black toenail, so ask for help if you need to move anything that is heavy.
  • Avoid toenail fungus. Wash your feet daily and make sure to dry them thoroughly afterwards. Wear clean socks every day, and rotate between shoes so they can dry out sufficiently. Also, always wear shoes in public areas.
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Getting the Help You Need

Whenever you observe or experience anything out of the ordinary with regards to your toes, feet, and ankles, make an appointment to see Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists. We are experts at treating black toenails—along with a wide range of other conditions—and will get your nails back to being healthy in the shortest amount of time possible. Make an appointment with our Austin, TX office by calling (512) 328-8900 or use our convenient online form.

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Dr. Craig H. Thomajan, DPM, FACFAS, FAENS
Founder and Managing Partner of Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists