Table of Contents
1. What is an Ingrown Toenail?
An ingrown toenail (referred to medically as onychocryptosis or unguis incarnatus) is a situation where one’s toenail (either the corner or the side) has grown into the neighboring tissue.
This frequently causes redness, swelling, slight discomfort in the least and excruciating pain in severe cases. This occurs quite frequently among people and also may include localized infections.
Without timely and proper treatment serious issues can result including bone infection (Osteomyelitis).
Note: Those with circulation problems need to be especially cautious since healing is slower and nerves can be damaged. Infection and even gangrene in extreme cases can occur if not treated properly and promptly.
2. Ingrown Toenail Myths
Myths. So many of them sound good don’t they? Others sound a bit far- fetched. Still others make you wonder if that person was under the influence of something when they came up with it. Some myths were actually used as common treatments for a very long time.
The odd thing is that frequently these methods either may not have worked in the first place (other factors were actually responsible for the healing or ingrown toenail pain relief) or were just accepted as being truth after so long just because they seemed to work once or twice. Here’s a couple of good ones.
Contrary to popular belief, notching the toenail “to allow the edges to grow inward” is a myth. As stated earlier, the toenail grows in a linear fashion similar to a slow conveyor belt. Notch a conveyor belt being pushed down the line and it will, well, do nothing. Unless you are really gung ho and decide to cut the notch clear down to the nail matrix. I hope you like pain if you plan on doing that.
One method that I’ve heard of frequently is to use cotton to create a ball or a wedge shape and gently place that under the nail to lift it slightly. First of all, taking any material and placing it in a confined space is a no-no due to the high likelihood of infection and contamination from the material itself. Also, if you have ever had a really sore toe, just getting within 6 inches of it makes the toe start to throb and hurt! You know what I mean if you’ve ever had one.
While home remedies for ingrown toenails are common, few have actually been proven to be valid. Others are just foolish if not dangerous. Now, getting the nail to “flatten out” and thereby clear the skin and tissue as it grows sounds reasonable. So does the opposite, getting the tissue to be pulled downward and away from the nail until it can grow out cleanly also sounds good. The end goal seems correct but how you get it done may be a bit on the sketchy side.
Suffice it to say that if the tissue around your toenail is already sore, how easy is it going to be to push, pull and manipulate it, sometimes repeatedly many times a day to get it to grow out correctly? Remember that a toenail takes anywhere from around 12 months to 18 months to grow out. More or less, everyone is different.
We’ll go over ingrown toenail home treatments a bit later.
3. Ingrown Toenail Causes
Many people wonder what causes an ingrown toenail. There are many potential causes that may cause an ingrown toenail but by far the prime culprit is some sort of damage to the nail. Genetics is another. More on that later. Most everything else aggravates the condition that already exists.
Something as simple as not trimming the nail correctly may cause the nail to dig into the surrounding tissue as it grows out. Although, this only applies in certain circumstances. Here’s why it isn’t necessarily the primary cause in many cases.
If you think about it, unless a spur, point or hook is formed from improper trimming of the toenail, the likely cause is how the nail itself is growing and not how it is trimmed per se. To understand how your nail grows just know that the nail is sliding forward from where it’s created. This area of creation is called the nail “matrix” and is protected by the nail itself. See “E” below
Since the matrix is what forms the nail itself, if this is damaged, the nail will grow differently. Think width and thickness here. To get a better idea of where and what the matrix is, look at any nail (including your fingernail). See the small lighter colored area at the base of the nail? That is the upper part of the matrix that can be seen.
Since the nail originates here, the only way trimming could create an ingrown toenail is if a point, spur or hook was left on the corner of the nail. This is called a spicule in the medical world. This could easily dig into the soft tissue, thereby causing irritation and eventually an ingrown toenail if left untreated. Think of it as a splinter of sorts. The effect is the same.
The rest of the growth is more or less linear unless serious damage was done to the base structure. This is similar to a slow conveyor moving. The nail is slowly pushed out the front. Anything “downstream” of this will push the conveyor belt (your nail) to one side or the other and can even direct it up or down.
So, when it is said that the nail should be trimmed straight across with the nail extending slightly from the skin (not trimmed too short) you hopefully understand now why this is…to prevent the toenail spurs, points etc. from forming and “catching” the soft tissue, thereby causing painful ingrown toenail problems.
Aside from that, typically an injury that affects how the nail grows is the main reason for any problems. Jamming your toe or encountering constant, small impacts can create these issues(running is an example). Same thing with excessive loads on your feet (moving heavy items or squatting or kneeling, thereby causing the toes to become compressed). Anything that displaces the toenail can potentially damage it, eventually creating the condition known as an ingrown toenail.
Oh yes, corners of the nail may be filed to round them slightly but this is to prevent snagging/digging in or catching the soft tissue.
Shoes that do not fit correctly (too tight or too loose) can slowly affect the path of the nail and/or irritate or aggravate the area. Therefore, they tend to make matters worse.
Sometimes, however, it can also be simple genetics. The thickness and curving may be caused by your DNA (A sort of genetic program that tells your body how to function)!
4. Ingrown Toenail Symptoms
Ingrown toenail symptoms may have one of several indications. Localized swelling around the nail, redness also around the nail, each of which may be combined with tenderness and pain in localized areas.
Infection may also be present locally. Localized bleeding may also occur and may be encountered with watery drainage. If the site is infected pus may be discharged as well. These are the most common symptoms of an ingrown toenail.
5. Ingrown Toenail Treatment
There are many possible treatments for an ingrown toenail. They typically fall in one of two categories:
- Professional medical intervention (ingrown toenail surgery and/or ingrown toenail removal)
- Ingrown toenail home treatments
We’ll cover some of the most common ingrown toenail home treatments and also get into professional medical intervention which will range from a simple doctor visit for cleaning and/or antibiotics to ingrown toenail surgery for ingrown toenail removal.