This is part 1 of our 2-part series on ingrown toenails. Check back next week for part 2!

Ugh, ingrown toenails! They throb and swell with pain. They’re so tender that they can make just putting on a pair of socks an exercise in human misery. In the worst-case scenario, they could even lead to a serious infection.

Maybe this is the first time you’ve ever gotten one, and you’re astounded by just how much they get in the way of life. More likely, it’s far from your first rodeo and you’re beyond sick of ingrown toenails springing up every few months or years, like weeds in a garden. Either way, there’s got to be a way to break the cycle and stop these things from coming back, right?

Indeed, there is. Ingrown toenails can be fixed—permanently. The in-office procedure to do it doesn’t take long and should cause only the most minimal discomfort. But we’ll have more on that next week. This week, we’re starting with the basics: what on earth started this disaster? Where did my ingrown nail come from?

Ingrown Toenails

Let’s run through some of the main possibilities together.

You Smacked Your Toe on the Table Leg Again, Didn’t You?

Hey, we’ve all been there. The groggy morning where you know you have to navigate down to the kitchen but you’re juuuuust not quite really awake yet. Or maybe that other time where you were staring straight down at your smartphone while walking the dog and your big toe got really closely acquainted with a fire hydrant. Or how about when you opened the refrigerator for some leftovers and a three-quarters-full jar of salsa dropped from the top shelf … straight onto your toe?

Whether it comes from a stub, a dropped object, or even kicking a soccer ball over and over again, direct trauma to the nail can get it bent out of shape. As the injured nails keep growing, they descend into hostile territory rather than safely growing out toward freedom.

You Crammed Your Feet Where They Did Not Fit

We know, we know. You just couldn’t resist that cute pair of pumps (even though they were two sizes too small). Or you really needed a 4E extra wide work boot, but they only had medium width at the store and you didn’t want to walk to the other end of the mall. Or you didn’t bother to measure your feet again because, hey, you’ve been a size 9.5 your entire life, right?

Bad excuses!

Tight shoes and socks are one of the most common causes of all sorts of foot problems—bunions, neuromas, hammertoes, heel pain, you name it. Ingrown toenails? No exception to the rule. When toenails are pinched and pressed by toe boxes that are too narrow, to shallow, or too pointy, they can pushed off course—straight into the sensitive surrounding skin.

You Cut Your Nails Too Short

Why do you think you have toenails in the first place, exactly? They’re not purely vestigial. They protect a lot of sensitive flesh with a lot of nerve endings. There’s a reason you don’t want to take too much of them away!

More to the point, however: if you cut your nails too short, you put the sharp, cut ends of your nail in very close proximity to the soft, fleshy nearby skin. Under those circumstances, it isn’t too hard for that nail to catch, hook, snag, and dig into the skin as it grows. The skin then folds over the nail, creating a very painful situation.

Never cut into the pinkish portion of your nail—only the whitish area that extends beyond the nail bed. Never cut into the sides or edge of the nail, either. Do not round the corners like you would with your fingernails, but keep them mostly straight. Also, use a proper set of toenail clippers—don’t try to get by with a scissors or dainty fingernail trimmer.

Poor Hygiene

Your Feet Are Wet, Sweaty, and Gross

Sorry, but it had to be said!

Poor hygiene—along with certain medical conditions and infections—are linked with a higher risk of ingrown toenail development. Excessive sweating, for example, may cause skin to soften and swell, and nails to crack and split. In effect, you can create miniature “spears” of sharpened nail that plunge into the surrounding sea of swollen skin, as if thrown by Captain Ahab after some subdermal Moby Dick.

To give another example, toenail fungus (which can spread to the nail bed after causing athlete’s foot) often has the effect of thickening and distorting toenails and causing them to become ragged and sharp. Of course, ingrown toenails are a frequent cause of fungal nails (since it provides an opening for the fungi to enter in the first place), but the reverse is also true. Either condition can lead to the other.

You Were Born That Way

We’re all born superstars, according to noted cultural scholar Lady Gaga. And for the record, loving who you are on the inside and outside is solid all-around advice. But unfortunately, sometimes we inherit certain genetic defects from our parents that can lead to a greater risk of pain. Ingrown toenails do sometimes fall into this category.

For example, some people have toenails which are naturally more curved from top to bottom and side to side than the average. And that can predispose you to getting ingrown toenails again and again. Wash your feet every day? Only wear loose, comfortable shoes and socks? Trim properly and never put your feet in harm’s way? None of that jawn matters. The ingrown toenail keeps coming back. In fact, we sometimes see very young kids (even before they start walking or wearing shoes) develop ingrown nails.

Do you see yourself in any of these situations? Maybe more than one? We hope so—it may help you prevent another ingrown toenail in the future, whether on the same or a different toe. As for the ingrown toenail you already have? We strongly recommend you give us a call right away for a prompt, painless, and permanent fix. More on that in next week’s blog!

  • Myers Park: (704) 334-8682
  • South Charlotte: (704) 542-8253