Runner’s Guide: Tackling Bruised Toenails and Keeping Your Feet Injury-Free

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Do you often experience bruised toenails from running? You’re not alone, and I’m here to help.

Those bruised toenails might seem like a runner’s badge of honor, but they can be painful and disruptive to your training.

But don’t worry, there are steps you can take to prevent those unsightly and uncomfortable bruises.

In this article, we’ll dive into the world of runner’s toenails, explore how to treat bruised toenails from running, and, most importantly, discover ways to keep your toes happy and injury-free.

Let’s get started!

What is A Bruised Toenail From Running?

A bruised toenail from running, also known as a jogger’s toenail, occurs when the nail and the surrounding area become bruised or turn black due to the stress placed on them while running.

Medically termed a subungual hematoma, this condition involves bleeding under the toenail, which causes it to appear black. The black color results from blood leaking from damaged blood vessels.

A bruised toenail can lead to throbbing pain, intense discomfort, and the accumulation of blood beneath the nail. However, despite the pain, it is usually not a serious condition. In runners, the big toe and the second toe are often the most affected by jogger’s toenails because they are typically the longest toes and absorb the most stress during the running stride.

The Complications

While runners’ toes are not usually considered a serious running injury, they can be extremely uncomfortable and potentially interfere with your training. Ignoring runners’ toes can sometimes lead to painful complications, including:

  • The loss of the toenail.
  • Development of blood blisters.
  • Risk of infection (more details on this later).

It’s important to address runners’ toes and take appropriate measures to prevent or manage these complications to ensure your running experience remains as pain-free as possible.

The Causes of Bruised Toenails

The primary cause of runners’ toenails is repetitive stress. With each step you take while running, the tips of your toes repeatedly rub against or hit the front of your running shoe. Even if you have proper running shoes and form, the impact can still lead to your toenails, especially the big one, repeatedly slamming into the front of the shoe during each foot strike.

While this impact may seem minor individually, over the course of thousands of steps during your training, it can lead to the rupture of blood vessels beneath the toenail, resulting in blood leakage. The more stress and impact your toes endure, the greater the damage that accumulates over time.

Additional Resource – Your Guide to Groin Strains While Running

Symptoms of Infection After Nail Injury

As I mentioned earlier, bruised toenails are generally not a cause for concern. However, in some cases, the condition may lead to an infection if bacteria or germs enter the toes through a break in the nail or skin. Additionally, if the nail comes off, there will be an open area on the toe where infection could potentially develop.

In cases of infection, antibiotics may be required, but only a healthcare professional can determine the appropriate course of treatment. It’s important to be vigilant for the following signs of infection following a nail injury:

  • Feeling ill or experiencing a fever
  • Red streaks appearing around the affected area
  • Increased redness in the affected area
  • Swelling or persistent pain in the area.

Additional resource – Labral tears in runners

Other Causes Of Bruised Toenail

While bruised toenails in runners are often caused by the repetitive stress of running, it’s important to note that there can be other underlying causes. These include:

  • Fungal Infection: A fungal infection of the nail (onychomycosis) can cause discoloration, thickening, and darkening of the toenail.
  • Melanonychia Striata: This is a condition where there are dark lines or streaks in the nail caused by increased melanin production. It may be benign, but it’s important to have it evaluated by a healthcare professional to rule out any serious issues.
  • Cancerous Tumor: In very rare cases, a black toenail could be a sign of a cancerous tumor. This is extremely uncommon, but any suspicious changes in the toenail should be examined by a doctor.
  • Chronic Ingrown Toenail: An ingrown toenail that becomes chronic can cause discoloration and damage to the nail.
  • Subungual Exostosis: This is a type of benign tumor that can develop under the toenail, leading to nail discoloration and deformity.

Additional resource – Labral tears in runners

How To Treat Bruised Toenail

If you’re not experiencing serious pain, you likely don’t need any specific treatment for runners’ toenails.

But, if too much blood accumulates under the toenail to the point of forcing the nail to lift from its bed, then you’re in trouble. This often results in sharp or throbbing pain.

Head to the nearest clinic if you’re experiencing this type of pain. The physician will drain the affected toe for immediate pain relief.

Here are some steps to consider:

  • Rest and Elevation: If you have a bruised toenail but it’s not causing severe pain, you can simply rest and elevate your foot to reduce swelling.
  • Draining Pooled Blood: If a significant amount of blood has accumulated under the toenail, causing severe pain and pressure, it may be necessary to have a healthcare professional drain the blood. They will use a heated needle to make a small hole in the nail to release the pressure.
  • Nail Falling Off: If your nail is already loosening or falling off, it’s essential to keep the area clean. Clean the exposed area with an antibiotic cream and cover it with a bandage. Consult your doctor for guidance on proper wound care and to ensure the nail grows back correctly.
  • Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen can help manage pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Protective Measures: To prevent further injury, wear shoes that provide ample room for your toes, and consider using padding or cushioning to protect the toenail during recovery.
  • Consult a Doctor: If you’re unsure about the severity of the injury, experiencing persistent pain, or if you suspect an infection, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional. They can assess the injury and provide appropriate treatment recommendations.

Additional Resource – Your Guide to Groin Strains While Running

How To Prevent Bruised Toenails From Running

Repeated stress is the main culprit behind bruised tonsils. Therefore, anything you can do to minimize the stress is surely welcome.

Here are some of the measures to consider.

Get The Right Shoes

Choosing the perfect running shoes is like finding the right dance partner – it can make all the difference in the world. So, let’s talk shoe fit, shall we?

Picture this: you’re out on the trails, logging those miles like a champ. But wait, what’s that? Your feet start to feel like they’re staging a mutiny inside your shoes. You see, during your training, your feet can swell up a bit like they’ve had one too many cookies. So, here’s the deal – your running shoes need to have some wiggle room for those toe-party guests.

Let me break it down for you: your toes should be able to move freely, like they’re dancing at a music festival, inside your shoes. No cramped toes allowed! But hold on, we’re not talking clown shoes here – the toe box (that’s the front of your shoe) should be just right, not too wide, and definitely not too narrow.

Now, let’s get specific. Imagine your biggest toe is the star of the show (which it is), there should be about a thumb’s width of space between its tip and the end of your shoe. That’s the sweet spot for comfort and preventing toenail troubles.

But here’s the kicker – don’t just grab any pair of sneakers off the shelf. Nope, I recommend heading to a running-specialty store, the kind that lives and breathes sportswear. Those folks know their stuff and will make sure your feet find their ideal fit.

Additional resource – Guide to big toe pain from running

Tie Your Shoes Properly

You’ve got the fanciest running shoes designed to pamper your feet with every step. But guess what? If those laces aren’t handled with care, they could become your toenails’ worst enemy.

Here’s the deal: shoes laced too tightly can squeeze your toenails, and that’s a recipe for disaster. But if you’re too chill about it and let your feet slide all over the place inside your shoes, your toenails will be slamming into the front end like they’re in a rock concert mosh pit.

So, how do you find that sweet spot? It’s all about getting your laces just right – snug but not suffocating. Here’s a pro tip: try an “Anklelock” lacing technique. It’s like giving your feet a cozy little hug inside your shoes, preventing them from going wild and wrecking your toenails.

Here’s how:

Avoid Too Much Downhill Running

Have a history of bruised toenails? Then, you should take a look at your running surfaces.

If you’re all about those downhill runs, you’re putting your toenails through the wringer. Speeding downhill increases the vertical impact force, and your poor toenails end up taking the hit, no matter how snug your shoes are.

But fear not, we’ve got a secret weapon for you: toe caps or pads. They’re like little shock absorbers for your toes, cushioning the blow and sparing you from toenail trauma. Just make sure to find the perfect fit to avoid adding unnecessary bulk or causing friction with your other toes.

Keep Your Toenail Short

Another measure to protect your toes from taking a beating is to maintain a square-shaped toenail.

Long toenails are a no-no if you want to keep those nails happy. They’re like little battering rams, constantly slamming into the front or sides of your shoes. So, keep ’em short and square-shaped to prevent any unnecessary drama. But remember, don’t go overboard and aim for the perfect circle – that’s a slippery slope to ingrown toenails!

Go For the Right Socks

Your choice of socks can significantly impact your run, especially if you’re dealing with bruised toenails.

Selecting the right socks can help prevent moisture build-up, whether it’s from sweat or damp weather. Moist feet are more susceptible to friction, which can cause your feet to slide uncomfortably inside your shoes.

To mitigate this, opt for cushioned running socks with seamless toes. These socks provide extra padding and help absorb the forces, protecting your toenails.

For those prone to black toenails, consider thicker running socks with added padding. Doubling up on socks can also provide additional protection.

Increase Mileage Slowly

Now, let’s talk about increasing your mileage.

Abruptly increasing your weekly mileage can raise the risk of injuries. Research has shown that beginner runners who boosted their weekly training volume by over 30% for a few weeks were more prone to injury compared to those who adhered to the 10% mileage increase rule.

Keep in mind that sudden changes in training intensity or terrain can contribute to a runner’s toe, especially if your runs include a love of downhill miles.

Visit a Professional

If you’re experiencing persistent pain or notice unusual changes in your toenail, it’s time to seek professional help. This is especially crucial if you’re tempted to use at-home pedicure tools or if your toenail appears abnormal.

When determining whether a visit to the doctor is necessary after a toenail injury, be vigilant for specific signs and symptoms.

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