Shedding Light On Black Toenails


One nice thing about running is the svelte, lean figure that you can develop from burning all that extra fat. If you are into looking fit, pounding the pavement is one way to get there. However, there is one part of you that may not end up looking good at all. All that exercise may end up giving you black toenails, which are not a pretty sight!

What Makes Toenails Black?

There are many things that can turn your toenails dark, but trauma and injury are the most common. You might drop something on them, they might slam into the fronts of your shoes during a hard run or going down hills, or they could be stressed by simply wearing shoes that are not roomy enough. Anything that puts repeated pressure on your toes can end up causing a subungual hematoma—which means that fluid and blood are pooling beneath the nail.

There are other reasons for black toenails, including fungal infections under the keratin, or a rare but serious form of cancer called malignant melanoma. If you notice your toenails changing color, it is always best to seek medical help, and who better than podiatrists Dr. Matthew Paden, Dr. Brett D. Sachs, and Dr. Dustin Kruse, who are specially trained to deal with issues of the feet?

Watch for These Symptoms

Even though they are called black, the nails may appear other colors such as red, brown, or purple. As the fluid and blood have nowhere to go, they build up pressure on surrounding tissue which can be extremely painful.

It is possible that as the fluids degrade you will notice a foul odor. They may also begin to seep out from under the toenail if they find a small opening. Be especially on the lookout for any warmth or red streaks leading away from the nail that could indicate infection.

What to Do for a Black Toenail

In most cases, the best thing is to just leave it alone. New nail will usually grow and push out the damaged part, which may end up falling off by itself. Some experienced runners who have had one or two of these over the years may want to release the pressure themselves with “bathroom surgery” methods, but we do not recommend this because of the risk of infection. If you have diabetes, it is doubly important not to do these types of self-care treatments, because serious problems could develop.

If the blackness covers more than a quarter of the nail or is very painful, come in and let us alleviate the symptoms in a sterile manner. We can check for more serious issues that the black nail is hiding, such as cuts in the nail bed or exposed bone that could get infected. Although the risk is small, we also can identify melanoma in the early stages, while there is the best chance of a cure.

Keeping Black Toenails at Bay

There are things you can do to prevent this problem in the first place. One is nail trimming: not too short, not too long, and straight across. Another is hygiene: wash and dry your feet, wear clean socks, and let your shoes air out between uses to head off fungal toenails.

Going barefoot increases your risk of injury and infection, but finding proper shoes that leave room for your toes is important, too. Always wear the proper shoes for your sport, and take care when moving heavy objects. Above all, don’t let a problem fester and develop into a serious issue; prompt treatment has saved many a toe.

If you have more questions about your black toenails or general foot health, we are here to answer them. Call Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle Center at (303) 423-2520 and set up a time to come in to our Wheat Ridge or Golden, CO, office. You can also schedule an appointment through our website. While you are at it, go to the home page and order our free book—Step Wise: A User’s Guide to Foot and Ankle Health. We will send it right out!

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