Running Away from Black Toenails

Runners get black toenailsRunning is a great way to stay fit and healthy, however the repetitive stress it places on feet can sometimes lead to overuse injuries. Heel pain from plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis, for example, are common problems that plague runners, but another common running injury involves toenails turning black. This discoloration and bruising beneath the nail can look alarming, and sometimes even be painful, but there are things you can do to treat the problem, and better yet, prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Black and Blue Basics

The discoloration you are seeing is blood pooling beneath your nail due to some sort of trauma – something heavy falling on your toe, or in the case of running, the constant jamming of toes against the front of shoes. This is a common occurrence for those doing a lot of downhill training, or runners who have increased the intensity and duration of their workouts. However, one of the main reasons toenails turn black is because of running shoes that just plain don’t fit well. If shoes are too big, your foot can slide and cause toes to continually hit the front of your shoe over and over again. Footwear that’s too small forces your toes against the front where they endure the forces of every step you take. So, making sure your running shoes are replaced regularly and fit correctly is key to avoiding getting the blues from black toenails!

What to Do About the Black and Blue

Other than a switch in footwear, often times no treatment is necessary. In most cases, the issue causes no additional symptoms and may even go away on its own as a clear and healthy nail grows in and replaces the discolored one. However, in some situations, pressure from the build-up of blood beneath the nail can become painful, infected, cause the nail to lift and even fall off, or emit a foul odor. If you have more than one toenail turning black, obviously this can become quite inhibiting, and we all know -- a runner who has to stop running is not a happy camper! Your best bet, then, is to schedule an appointment as soon as you start noticing your toenail turning black. We can drain the blood beneath the nail or remove the damaged nail and clean and treat the nail bed to protect it as a new nail grows in. It’s also a good idea to have your nails assessed to rule out other possible causes, including a fungal infection that should be addressed, and melanoma which is obviously critical to treat as soon as possible.

One more tip to stay clear of black toenails (besides footwear that fits and a reduction of running downhill!) is to make sure you care for nails properly. Don’t let them get too long! Keep them even with the tips of your toes and trim them straight across. For more information or to make an appointment, you can contact Dr. Harvey Danciger by calling our Palm Desert, CA office at (760) 568-0108 or by using our online contact form.

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle