Ingrown toenail (or onychocryptosis) occurs when your toenail grows into the sides of the nail. These can be extremely painful but usually avoidable. Here are our top tips for preventing ingrown toenails.
Medically reviewed by Dr Chaminda Goonetilleke, 20th Jan. 2022
Wear appropriate footwear
Make sure your footwear fits properly, not too tight or loose. Running shoes should suit your foot type and running style. Replace worn-out shoes. Running shoes are usually good for 400 miles or 6 months before they need replacing.
- Read more about choosing running shoes.
Appropriate nail trimming
Prepare by washing your hands and feet. Then make sure they are dry.
Use nail clippers or manicure scissors. Make sure you cut your nails regularly.
Cut nails straight across the top. Avoid cutting down the sides (apart from a little rounded at the edges). This encourages your nail to grow back down the sides, into the skin, rather than outwards at the top.
You should cut the opaque area (off-white) only and not take too much of the nail away.
No nail picking ( poor foot hygiene)
An infected ingrown toenail can be caused by picking, especially if you have not washed your hands properly.
When you pick your toenails, the nail will not be straight and therefore may grow down into the skin.
Also, if you pick your nail the skin bed and nail become tethered, and more of the nail is taken away than necessary causing your skin to fold over.
Keeping your feet clean and free from fungal infections and dry will help prevent toenail problems.
Reduce repetitive trauma and stress
Stress to the nail bed or toes can cause ingrowing toenails.
Long-distance running, being stamped on, stubbing your toe or slowing from a sprint too quickly all cause inflammation of the nail and/or surrounding tissue.
Improve your running style
A poor gait patterning when walking or running can cause more stress to your nail, skin or nail bed.
You may need Orthotic inserts in your shoes to help correct foot biomechanics. This not only reduces excessive loads to your toes which may cause ingrown toenails but should increase performance and help avoid other injuries as well.
Read more on foot biomechanics and gait analysis.
Reduce any swelling in your feet
Swelling through acute or chronic trauma can cause an ingrowing toenail. Take appropriate measures to prevent or reduce swelling.
Apply ice or cold therapy if your toe is swollen and raise your foot to help drain tissue fluids away. Treat any infection you may have which is causing your nail to swell.
If you are overweight or obese then this increases the likelihood of sustaining an ingrown toenail.
If an injury has occurred which affects the load, changes foot biomechanics produces swelling or puts an altered strain on the toe or toes it should be treated as soon as possible.
This will reduce your chances of getting an ingrowing toenail.
If you have a foot deformity (Bunion for example), or a foot deformity is worsening, it is important to seek professional advice so it can be corrected, or prevented from worsening.
Deformities should be checked if they are new, but also regularly checked if they are worsening in any way. This is because the loading of the foot and toes may have changed which can cause ingrowing toenails.
Read more on how to treat an ingrowing toenail.