Toenails

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Experience From - Matt Mahoney, Jay Hodde, Doug McKeever, John Thieme, Robert Clementz, Jim Benike, Alex Feldman, Bill Ramsey, Tim Jantz, Phil Oelkers , Will Brown , Sean Greenhill , Tom Hendriks , Kathy O'Sullivan , Andrew Holak , Bill Ramsey , Rich Schick ,


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 with several 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.


Tim Jantz

black nails can be from improper shoe fit, but if your shoes are long enough and the toebox is not tapered then check your nails. make sure nails are trimmed short. do this a week before a race or long run, that way if you mess up you will have some time to recover. if your nails aren't long then you may be gripping your toes when you run. this causes the tip of the toe and nail to come in contact with the shoe liner. repetative microtrauma causes the nail to loosen and then a subungual hematoma (black nail) forms. it sounds strange but try to run relaxed without gripping your toes, it may not cure the problem but it will help.


Phil Oelkers

Last summer I lost the nail on my big toe. It's growing back much more curved than it was before. It seems the edges want to grow down into the toe. Will this be a problem or will it correct itself?


Will Brown

Hooha! I get to jump on this one first. It'll correct itself, Phil. You'll lose it again and get another chance to grow a different mutant toenail.


Geri Kilgariff

Phil, sounds like you're getting an ingrown toenail. Try filing the middle surface of the toenail with an emery board. Don't draw blood--just make it thinner than the sides so the toenail starts growing back toward the center and stops spreading out under your skin. Cutting the toenail in a v can also help if the nail is long enough. Or drop a frozen turkey on your foot to re-blacken the toenail so it grows in right the next time.


Sean Greenhill

I used to have this problem, and the edges grew into the flesh at the front end of the toe. I had to have my podiatrist scrape and cut out those sections of nail to relieve the pain and swelling.

Keep the nail short so the toe can reform itself properly (where the nail and flesh meet). My podiatrist clipped the rest of the nail very short at the same time and told me to keep it that way. The problem became less frequent gradually and eventually the nail's growth corrected itself.


Tom Hendriks

Great subject, enjoyed the answers so far. Keeping the nail short helps a lot, but be carefull not to cut away the edges. If you take them away to far the nail tends to "curl" into the flesh on the sides, so the problem gets worse. One thing I wondered while writing this... Why bother about those toenails. If you run enough, there off most of the time. ;-)


Kathy O'Sullivan

All runners feet are gross! I tried to keep my toenails painted, but you can't when the nail is just growing back. Since I live near the beach, I tend to bury my feet in the sand a lot! I have found wrapping the toes in some tape or bandage of some sort helps loose nails stay on longer...


Andrew Holak

I've got the same problem as Phil. My toenail appears to be growing into my toe. I can hardly find the end of the toenail to clip, because it's curled under. It kind of looks like a chunk of old fungus blocked the normal growth of the nail, and caused it to try and grow back "under" the fungus chunk. It is really very painful just to bump the toe a little. My nails usually grow back real nice. This is the first time I've had a problem.


Bill Ramsey

Phil, Yes, it will be a problem and it probably won't correct itself. I had the same problem with both big toes two years ago and solved it on the recommendation of my podiatrist. He indicated it would be a recurring problem and recommended they be permanently removed. It was a ten minute out-patient procedure involving anesthetizing the toe, pulling the nail (absolutely painless), and applying acid to kill the nail bed. The toes need 3 months to completely heal but shouldn't effect your running. My podiatrist said I wouldn't be able to run for 3 months but what he meant was I wouldn't want to run. Yeah...right. I did a 15 miler on the trail two days later and didn't miss a beat. Simply take an old pair of shoes and cut out the toe box portion over the big toe area. Keep a bit of antibiotic ointment and band-aid over it and away you go.


Rich Schick

The toenail removal bit is an option, but if you simply use an emery board or other suitable file (I prefer the coarse variety of diamond file used by beauticians) to keep the entire nail paper thin it will cause no problems. The same technique works for nails thickened by fungus. The ladies can then polish the nail with a finishing file and paint them their favorite hue if the nail is discolored as is often the case.