Black Toenails

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Experience From - Matt Mahoney, Jay Hodde, Doug McKeever, John Thieme, Robert Clementz, Jim Benike, Alex Feldman, Bill Ramsey,


Matt Mahoney

Ron C. wrote:

"This is a question for a friend. A few days after a 16 mile run my friend found his big toenail was bruised/ blackened."
Black toenails are a part of ultrarunning. If you don't like the color, try nail polish. Your toenails may loosen and fall off. That is OK. Toenails are useless appendages that you can do without. When mine get loose I pull them out with pliers. They eventually grow back, but they are never as pretty as the originals.


Jay Hodde

Matt wrote:

"Black toenails are a part of ultrarunning. If you don't like the color, try nail polish."
In all my races, I've only blackened one single nail. And that race was a half-marathon. Never have I gotten black nails from an ultra. I have never lost a nail, either.

I sell running shoes on the side to pay for my ultrarunning habit. Most people who buy shoes (and are not experienced runners), get them too small for their feet. Buying a half-size larger does wonders for nails. New ultra runners likely buy their shoes too small, too, not taking the swelling factor into consideration when trying them on.


Doug McKeever

It is not necessarily universally true that black toenails are a part of ultrarunning. For example, I've run a lot of miles over the years and have yet to ever get a black toenail or lose a toenail. I've lost toenails from dropping heavy objects like bricks on my toes, but even with all the zillion vertical feet of hammering the down hills, occasionally in too-small shoes, I've yet to lose a nail. What's wrong with me, Matt? How can I join the club of the blackened toenails?


John Thieme

Ron wrote:

"He noticed that the shoes were tight in the toes on the down hills."
Your friend had figured out the reason for his/her black nail. Unless there was other trauma like stubbing on a rock or root.

"So, what is known about these blackened toenails as far as cause, cure, managing etc."
In my limited experience I've found that black nails take care of themselves until they are ready to fall off then them a little coaxing with a nail trimmer and or pliers. One caveat, if the nail is painfully swollen under it may be necessary to drain the fluid that is built up. Remember to use sterile instruments.

The management of feet is too great a topic for my simple skills. See John Vonhoff's excellent book, Fixing Your Feet. He posts to the list so finding how to get your own copy is easy. (He'll probably even autograph it for you.)


Robert Clementz

Matt wrote:

"Toenails are useless appendages that you can do without."
Toenails are not useless appendages! We were not given any useless body parts. They offer protection for the end of our toes. Therefore they need to be protected if possible. We can do without them, but we lose the protection that they offer.

I got my first black toenail from repeatedly hitting the front of the toebox of my shoes. During a 50 miler that I had to walk too much due to a freak malady that hit me during the race. My shoes seem to have plenty of room, and a had used this same pair on 3 previous 50K's will no foot problems at all. When walking your foot will slide slightly forward on each step because the flow of walking is a stopping motion on each step. The same will happen on downhill sections in a race if there is not enough clearance in the toebox.

The best remedy is prevention. Correct size of shoe, trimming nails correctly and often, tightening the shoe just before the point of "too tight", and keeping your foot as dry as possible for as long as possible during a long run (IE. good water-wicking socks). After the fact you can lessen the internal pressure from the hematoma by drilling (with a small drill bit between your thumb and fingers-not a power drill!) a small hole through the nail. This will relieve the pressure and most often save the nail. If there is no pressure from pooling blood then this method will probably not work and you will have to allow the nail to grow back. (I've used this procedure on a couple of fingernails in the past after I missed the head of a nail!)

To date it has been seven months and the end of my toenail is a bit black but almost back to normal.


Jim Benike

Matt is correct on black toes. I use my toes to tell the seasons. If my first two toes are black then it is running season. If my little toe is black it is cross country skiing season. If I don't have any black toes then I'm 10 pounds over weight. It is easy to run withseveral black toes than with 10 extra pounds.


Alex Feldman

Robert Clementz wrote:

...They offer protection for the end of our toes. Therefore they need to be protected if possible. We can do without them, but we lose the protection that they offer."

Toenails are the remnants of what were claws a few evolutionary epochs ago. They were undoubtedly useful then, but having been without two of mine for several years now, I can tell you that I haven't missed them a bit, and never noticed any "protection". I feel less pain running downhill without my two great toenails than I ever had with them.


Bill Ramsey

If they become persistent, get them removed permanently. Before the Angeles Crest 100 last year, I was having a recurring black nail problem (even with big, size larger shoes) which turned into a major ingrown. At the recommendation of the podiatrist, I had both "big" (technical podiatry term) toe nails permanently removed and haven't regretted it one bit. He anesthetized the toes with a shot, yanked the nails, and put acid on the nail bed to kill nail growth. It took 10 minutes. They took about 3 months to completely heal and I had to cut holes in my toe box...but didn't miss a bit of training. Three months after removal, I ran a pretty respectable time at Angeles Crest with absolutely no toenail discomfort. If you're having recurrent problems with a nail or nails...see the podiatrist for a permanent fix. Not to mention, nail-less toes are very cool looking in a strange sort-of-way and a possible conversation piece.