A bruise appearing on your toenail can be an experience that, in the best case, leads to discomfort, and in the worst, fever and infection.
Bruised toenails are a common occurrence, especially amongst athletes— sometimes even considered to be a rite of passage amongst those who run marathons.
However, just because it is common, doesn’t mean you have to live with it, especially because of the pain it causes.
What is a Bruised Toenail?
You’ll recognize it immediately as a black smudge that appears on your toenail. It is not your actual nail that gets bruised, but rather the tissue underneath which gets damaged and starts to bleed.
The black color is just the blood that has accumulated from the wound.
What Causes a Bruised Toenail?
Many things can damage the tissue under your nail to the point of bleeding – resulting in a bruise.
Running, martial arts, skating, and other high-impact sports that mainly involve your feet are the number one cause of toenail bruising.
When your foot makes firm contact with the ground, the momentum often slides your foot forward to hit the front of your shoe (the toe box), causing brief but intense pressure.
When engaging in sports or exercising, these short yet frequent moments can cause the nail to tear from the tissue underneath.
Wearing the wrong pair of shoes can also cause bruising.
If the shoe is too loose, your foot is more likely to slide around and hit the toe box. If it is too tight, the shoe will cause pressure on your toes constantly, resulting in the same issue.
Dropping Something Heavy
The most obvious cause of a bruise is blunt force trauma – a.k.a. dropping something on your feet.
Weights, bowling balls, books, or even a can of beans can slip from your hands and land on your toes, and then before you know it, you’ve got an ugly black spot.
Will My Bruised Toenail Fall Off?
Depending on how serious the bruise is and your own body’s natural reaction to the injury, your toenail may or may not fall off.
It can take as little as two weeks or as long as five months for it to fully die and fall from the nail bed. Sometimes, the nail won’t fall off at all and you can just keep trimming until the black parts are gone.
It’s possible that a new nail will begin growing over the other one before it falls off, so if you see a double layer developing, leave it be— the new nail will eventually push out the old one.
It can take up to six months to re-grow a new toenail, so be patient.
How To Treat a Bruised Toenail
Your best option is to wait. If it’s not causing severe pain, then your body will resolve the problem naturally. However, if you have no explanation for a bruise or it’s very painful, then see a doctor.
A doctor will be able to drain the excess blood to relieve pressure (and therefore pain), as well as officially diagnose it as either harmless or possibly a sign of cancer, such as melanoma.
While at home, place an ice pack on your toe every two hours for fifteen to twenty minutes to lessen the pain and reduce inflammation for the first three days.
After that, use the ice pack only two to three times a day for the next four days. Make sure to keep your foot clean, as a bruised toenail can easily get infected.
If your toenail has lost sensitivity or is beginning to fall off, do not attempt to remove it yourself. You could accidentally harm the tissue even more. Just let the nail fall off by itself.
If you really must remove the nail because it is interfering with your daily life, ask your doctor if they can remove it.
How Can I Prevent a Toenail Bruise?
Wear the Right Shoes
Wearing the correct shoe size can go a long way in preventing toenail bruises, even if you don’t walk much or exercise.
Besides just wearing the right size, tying your shoelaces correctly is also important. Make sure they aren’t too tight or too loose. Try to find shoes from different brands that have a soft and comfortable toe box.
There are certain athletic socks which have special padding on the toes to help prevent friction inside the shoe.
Look for brands with cushioning on the bottom or for socks that absorb impact and minimize your feet sliding around.
Trim Your Toenails
By trimming your toenails, you are making sure the tissue underneath receives less impact when hitting the toe box or banging against furniture.
Alcohol thins your blood, which makes it easier for your toenail to get bruised and then build up a lot of blood.
If you exercise frequently, try to reduce your alcohol consumption.
If you get bruises frequently, pay attention to your habits and how comfortable you are in your shoes every day.
Talk to your doctor if bruised toenails are a constant problem despite your efforts to prevent them.