Toenail Problems

Your feet: indicators of health

Because they are so far away from our heart, our feet are often the first part of the body to show something is wrong with the way blood circulates in our body. The condition of our toenails can signal the presence or beginning of several diseases. Healthy nails are pink, free of dirt and impairment, and lie in the grooves of the surrounding soft tissue without digging in. Toenails grow constantly but at a slow rate. It takes up to 12 months to replace the toenail of your big toe. Toenails of people of all ages can undergo a range of changes, some of which are relatively common. They can become thick, brittle, curved, discoloured, infected, clubbed, bumpy and grooved. In some cases, the nail falls off and a new one grows in. As we grow older, we are more likely to develop toenail problems.

What causes nail problems?

Toenail problems may be caused by growths such as corns, warts or tumours under the nail; infections (both bacterial and fungal infections); or poor circulation. Major toenail problem culprits are incorrectly fitting shoes, which press too tightly on the toenails. Injury or trauma leading to bruising under the nail and infection, can cause permanent nail deformity.

Common conditions and treatment

Ingrown toenailstoenail-ingrown

This is the most common toenail problem. Ingrown toenails may be caused by improperly trimmed toenails, nails with highly curved edges, shoe pressure or repeated trauma to the feet from normal activities. They may also be inherited. Frequently, the pain is due to a corn or callus in the groove (or sulcus) of the toenail. Most cases will require conservative treatment by your podiatrist however for those with persistent ingrown nails; Ipswich Podiatry offers two more intensive treatment options; minor nail surgery under local anaesthetic and nail bracing.

Thickened nails

This is a common condition. It is usually the result of injury to the nail bed, such as dropping something heavy on your toes, or a fungal infection. Thickened nails can be thinned down by a podiatrist easily and painlessly.

Fungal infections

toenail-fungusFungal infections are among the most troublesome of nail conditions to treat. They are often characterised by thickening, discoloration and separation of the front of the nail from the nail bed. In some cases the nail crumbles. These infections tend to stay in the nail if they are not treated, and can infect the nail bed. There is a range of antifungal medications available for treatment, so see your doctor. Your podiatrist can assist with trimming and care of out-of-shape nail plates.

Other infections

Other nail infections can cause inflammation of the matrix (onychia) and inflammation of the tissue adjacent to the nail (paronychia). In people with lowered immunity, this may sometimes lead to serious complications, including more widespread infection extending up the leg. Your podiatrist can detect such infections early and form a suitable treatment plan.


toenail-traumaTrauma to the nails may lead to permanent nail deformity. This can be cared for by regular, non-painful podiatric treatment, involving filing and possibly the use of a special drill.

Older people and nail problems

Older people with poor circulation are prone to fragile or brittle nails. Many older people do not have the strength, flexibility, or eyesight to trim their nails, especially if the nails are deformed. They should seek podiatric care for these services, and advice regarding safe self care.

Warning signs

Any sudden changes in colour or shape of the nail, sign of infection, development of a freckle under the nail, or pain should be discussed with your podiatrist.

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