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Runners Toenail

Runners Toenail – What Is It? Causes, Treatment and More

Every runner has experienced black toenails, also known as runners toenail. They can often feel sore, turn black and cause discomfort when you run. That being said, there are ways you can avoid your toenail from falling off or turning black.

This article is dedicated to helping prevent runner’s toenail. We discuss what it is, causes, treatments, and everything else related to sore and discoloured toenails from running.

What Is Runners Toenail?

Runners toenail, also known as black toenails or as joggers toenail, is when one of the nails on your toes becomes black. This is usually caused by repeated stress from running and other factors. The blackness comes from blood that travels from broken blood vessels.

Medically the actual term is called subungual hematoma. This means a collection of blood outside a vessel under the nail.

What Causes Runners Toenail

What Causes Runners Toenail

There are many causes of runner’s toenail. These can be from the repetitive stress of running, too much running downhill, or shoes that are too small.

However, the most common cause is from running in general. Each time your foot hits the ground, the tips of your toes shift towards the front of the shoe. This can cause the two to touch frequently.

Since the inside of your shoes is soft, the impact will only cause microscopic damage. This is called microtrauma.

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However, every time you hit the nail you are usually less likely to damage the nail. You instead cause damage to the blood vessels under your nail, which causes the blood vessels to leak blood. The more times the nails are hit, the more damage accumulates.

The big and second toes are the most common toes to experience damage. This is due to the length of the toes, and how close they are located to the end of the shoe.

If you are wearing shoes that are too small for you, you may experience runner’s toe in the smaller toes too. However, it is more common in the two larger toes.

Other causes of black toenails include fungal infection. Fungal infection is relatively common within runners since fungi thrive in warm and moist environments. If you experience a fungal infection, you may find your toenails turning more yellow and brown than black. However, it can later cause your nail to turn a darker colour like black from debris under the nail.

Other causes include anaemia which is low iron, diabetes, heart disease, and melanoma. However, only a small amount of runners experience this.

However, if you notice your nails going black after increasing your training, you will likely find it is caused by an increase in mileage or downhill running.

The most common symptoms of runner’s toenail include:

-Black discoloration
– Pain in and around the toenail
– Loose toenails
– blood blisters under the nail
– Pressure in and around the nail
– Loss of toenails

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Alternatively, if you experience an infection, you might get symptoms like

-Sharp pain in and around the nail
– Redness in the toes
– Swelling
– Pus between the nail and skin
– Fever
– Bad smell

How Do You Treat Runner's Toenails

How Do You Treat Runner’s Toenails?

For most people, runner’s toenail doesn’t cause more than discoloration and a small amount of discomfort. If you find it is causing you some pain, there are some ways you can manage it.

First start by:

– Wearing more cushioned socks
– Trim your toenails
– Use silicon pads between your toes
– Take NSAIDs like Voltaren or ibuprofen

Alternatively, if you are experiencing no complications, usually no treatment is necessary.

If you are collecting blood under the toenail, you can use a heated needle to poke a small hole to reduce the blood from the area. Otherwise, if your nail falls off you can use an antibiotic cream to clean it. Then you can use a bandage or plaster to cover the affected area.

Otherwise, if you suspect you have an infection that produces swelling or pus, it is recommended you visit a doctor. Your doctor then may prescribe a course of antibiotics.


How Long Does Runners Toenail Last?

For most people runner’s toenail will last around a few weeks to a few months. In this time you may find it takes a while for the nail to gradually loosen and fall off. While this may take some time for the nail to heal, you probably won’t experience pain for more than a few days.

However, during this time it is recommended that you reduce the volume and intensity you run at. This will help speed up the healing process, which in turn will help get you back to running quicker.

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If the issue is caused by shoes that are too small, go get your gait analysed and get put into the correct size and model of shoe that suits your running style. This will help prevent black or discoloured toenails from happening again in the future.

In a worst-case scenario, you may need to go through a procedure called nail trephination. Nail trephination is a procedure that drains the blood from under the nail by heating a needle and inserting it into the area where blood has formed. Alternatively, they may use a process using carbon dioxide laser, which may involve the use of a local anaesthetic if it hurts.