3 Tips to Protect Your Toenails If You’re a Hard-Core Runner

Expert tips and tricks to keep your toenails healthy

3 Tips to Protect Your Toenails If You're a Hard-Core Runner

If you’re a die-hard runner, black, loose or missing toenails may be as much a part of the sport as bags of frozen peas and race t-shirt collections.

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That’s because your toenails take quite a beating as you’re pounding the pavement. Damage occurs when your toenail repeatedly and forcefully makes contact with the front of your shoe, says podiatrist Georgeanne Botek, DPM.

The trauma causes blood to pool under your toenail, creating pressure and often intense, throbbing pain.

“Blood blisters also may develop under the toenail secondary to microtrauma and friction,” Dr. Botek says. “The action can lift up the toenail, which may cause the nail to eventually fall off.”

This is a common injury among runners, especially those who are training for marathons or highly competitive runners training at high intensity and volume, Dr. Botek says.

The injury usually is not painful, Dr. Botek says. Your toenails will heal when you ease up on your training, and the repetitive trauma ends.

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Blister basics

Blood blisters that lift the nail plate often are painful and an infection can develop if left untreated, Dr. Botek says. So it’s important to consult your doctor or podiatrist.

When the nail lifts, it is tempting to pull off the entire nail. But don’t, Dr. Botek says.

“Whatever you do, don’t pull the nail off as that can cause the nail bed to tear and scar,” Dr. Botek says. “Then you’ll have a deformed nail as the new nail grows in.”

When blood collects under the majority of the nail, it may be necessary to have a podiatrist drain the blood soon after the injury. This can give you relief from pain.

Some runners try to hide their black toe nails with polish, but avoid the paint, Dr. Botek says. While polish can improve the appearance of your toenail, it also prevents the nail from breathing. This is not healthy for long periods of time, Dr. Botek says.

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Other causes

Another cause of black-looking toenails is fungal infection, which can thicken the nail and sometimes turn it very dark. A fungal infection can be treated with medications topically or orally. A growing number of medications — over-the-counter and prescription — are available.

In very rare cases, a black spot under the nail can be a melanoma, or skin cancer. If you have a dark spot under the nail that does not go away, see your doctor.

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Tips to protect your toenails

Here are three tips from Dr. Botek to help you protect your toenails when running.

  1. Try silicone toe pads. They may help absorb some of the pressure from running.
  2. Find a running shoe that fits. When shopping for running shoes, visit a store that specializes in the sport to get a professional fitting. A good rule of thumb when buying running shoes is to make sure you have enough room in the toes, but not so much that your foot slides around in the shoe. “We don’t want something that’s going to pinch right on those toenails,” Dr. Botek says.
  3. Tie your laces properly. Adjusting the laces may help you get a better fit.

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