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The causes of ingrowing toenails and how to prevent them

woman holding foot in pain
Everything you need to know about ingrowing to nails including causes, treatment and how to prevent them from being an issue. Does podiatry work?

There is nothing worse than sore feet, and while this is often caused by uncomfortable shoes or too much walking, there are sometimes other reasons for it.

One cause of foot discomfort is an ingrowing toenail, which is not a nice thing for anyone to suffer from!

An ingrown toenail is a small thing, but it can be very sore. It is a common problem that usually occurs on a big toe, although it can happen on any.

Ingrowing toenails can happen to both men and women, although you may find that your sweaty teenagers are more prone to the problem.

If you suspect that you have an ingrown toenail, you should try to deal with it as soon as possible, in order to prevent it getting any worse.

What is an ingrowing toenail?

An ingrown toenail occurs when the nail grows back into the toe.

This could be the edges or the corners of the nail and is more common in people with sweaty feet or in older people, who find that their toenails are thickening.

If this is the case, it might be worth seeking help from a podiatrist who can advise you on the best way to care for your feet.

Ingrown toenail infection

An ingrowing toenail left untreated can lead to the toe becoming red and swollen, and the toenail starting to curve.

This is obviously painful and can lead to infections.

You will know that it has become infected as it may start to have pus coming out of it and you might start to feel hot or shivery.1

What causes ingrowing toenails?

Ingrown toenails can occur because the nail has been cut too short, or because the edges have been cut.

Always make sure that when you trim your toenails, you cut straight across, as cutting at an angle will encourage irregular growth.

As tempting as it might be to put style ahead of comfort, avoiding shoes that are tight or pointy will help to prevent problems with ingrown toenails - so put the slinky stilettos in the back of the wardrobe for a while!

You can also develop an ingrown toenail if you have experienced an injury or if your foot hygiene is not as top-notch as it could be.

Athletic activities such as dancing, football and running can also lead to ingrowing toenails due to the fact that extensive pressure is put on the feet for long periods of time.2

The best ingrown toenail treatment

Ingrowing toenails can often be cared for at home, and one of the easiest things you can do to treat an ingrowing toenail is to soak it warm water 3-4 times a day.3

This will help the skin to soften and therefore stops the nail from growing into it.

You should make sure that the foot stays dry for the rest of the day and wear comfortable shoes until it has healed. It can be tempting to cut your toenail, but you should leave it to grow out.

There are creams and ointments available that can help to combat any infections that an ingrown toenail might create or reduce the risk of them happening in the first place.

This can help to reduce tenderness and keep the toe free from discomfort. You can also use apple cider vinegar mixed into a warm water soak or look for footcare products that contain it.4

Preventing ingrowing toenails 

Ingrowing toenails happen when the nail does not grow in the correct direction.

Placing small pieces of cotton or dental floss under the edge of the nail can help to encourage it to grow correctly.

You should also take care to protect the toe. This might be through protective shoes or specific caps and braces that you can put around the toe while it heals.5

With the proper care, your ingrowing toenail should begin to improve after a few days and the pain will subside, with no permanent damage.

If your ingrowing toenail continues to cause you pain or becomes infected, you should seek help from your doctor.

Podiatry for ingrown nails

A podiatrist may also be able to offer specialist help by cutting away part of the nail or the whole thing.

There is a risk of further complications if you have diabetes or other issues relating to poor circulation.

Last updated: 23 March 2021

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