Your feet take a pounding every day. With every step you take, they bear the weight of your whole body. Yet people are often shy about problems they have with their feet and toes. I see it all the time in my practice. For whatever reason, people think they should be embarrassed by their feet. In some cases, this might cause you to delay getting help with a problem you’re having with your feet.
For example, many people silently suffer through ingrown toenail pain, unsure what they can do about it and reluctant to ask for help. If you find yourself living with an ingrown toenail, or if you get recurrent ingrown nails, there are things you can do that will help your feet.
Imagine being able to slip your feet into your shoes without wincing. Imagine being able to go on a long walk with your spouse without that throbbing ache in your toe when you’re done. You can put an end to ingrown toenails. But first, let’s look at what causes them to start with.
Understanding Why Ingrown Toenails Happen
Ingrown toenails happen when the sharp edge of your toenail begins to grow into the skin. It almost always occurs on the big toe, although any toe can be affected. The nail curls into the skin that is alongside it and continues to grow. The result is pain and swelling.
If you don’t take care of an ingrown toenail early on, it can eventually cause extra skin to grow in the area. You might also notice a yellowish fluid that drains from the area, and you might even develop an infection that requires a doctor’s care.
Pressure on the toe is the primary reason that a nail will become ingrown. Usually, it’s because of shoes that don’t fit quite right. Tight shoes can cause your toes to squish together and the process of your toe growing inwards. If you play a sport that involves a lot of kicking, like soccer, that can also lead to ingrown nails.
Nails that are more rounded tend to become ingrown more often. It’s less common, but a nail fungus that causes a thickening of the nail can increase how often you have an ingrown toenail.
Fortunately, in most cases ingrown toenails are easy to prevent.
Stop an Ingrown Toenail Before it Starts
The most important step to preventing ingrown toenails is to get shoes that fit you properly. This is true for all of your shoes, but it’s especially important for any shoes that you’ll be more active in. Walking shoes, hiking boots, and sports shoes must fit your feet or you risk ingrown nails.
The best way to find a shoe that fits is to go to a good shoe store, one where a salesperson will take the time to measure your feet and find a good fit. What to look for specifically is a shoe with enough room in the toe box. There should be a half-inch between your longest toe and the front of the shoe. You can determine this by pushing your toes up while the shoe is on to see where they are in relation to the front of the shoe. There should also be plenty of room to wiggle your toes while the shoe is on your foot.
It’s a good idea to shop for shoes in the late afternoon when you’ve already been on your feet for a while. Your feet tend to swell a little bit during the day. By shopping when they are at their largest, you’ll avoid buying shoes that will be too tight.
Another important step in preventing ingrown toenails is to clip your toenails properly. You should clip your nails straight across rather than rounding them at the edges. A straight-across cut helps prevent the corners of your nails from growing into the skin. You also want to avoid cutting your nails too short.
Home Remedies for Ingrown Nails
If you do develop an ingrown toenail, you can usually treat it at home. Soak your foot in warm water three or four times a day for ten or fifteen minutes. After each soak, gently try to lift the nail away from the skin where it is growing in. This can be a little bit uncomfortable, but it really helps.
A remedy that I’ve seen also effective is to clip a small “V” shape wedge into the middle of your big toe. Please clip no more than a one eighth of an inch or you’ll just compound the problem.
Make sure you wash the area with soap and water at least twice a day. This helps to prevent infection. Between soakings, keep your feet dry and wear roomy shoes.
If you notice that you have a nail that frequently becomes ingrown and that is growing thicker than usual or darker than usual, you may have a fungus. In that case, you should visit your doctor for help treating the fungus. Also, check in with your doctor if an ingrown toenail causes the toe to become red, unusually swollen, or if you notice an unusual odor. These can be signs of infection.
Ingrown toenails can make you miserable, but with a little extra care in choosing your shoes and trimming your nails, you can keep your nails healthy and your toes pain free.