Toenail Care

In this Article

Caring for toenails may seem like an insignificant job, but these small parts of your body can cause big problems. Without the proper care, toes can quickly become sources of pain, infection, and serious health problems. This is especially true for people with diabetes who are more prone to foot injuries. They have less sensation in their feet, a condition known as peripheral neuropathy. Diabetes can also reduce blood flow to parts of the body and can lead to toe, foot, or leg amputations.

Overview

Caring for toenails may seem like an insignificant job, but these small parts of your body can cause big problems. Without the proper care, toes can become sources of pain, infection, and serious health problems. This is especially true for people with diabetes [DYE-uh-BEE-tees] who are more prone to foot injuries because they have less feeling in their feet, a condition known as peripheral neuropathy.

A doctor that specializes in foot care is called a podiatrist [puh-DAHY-uh-trist] and they are the specialists for the treatment of foot and ankle conditions. Here are just of a few of the kinds of toe and foot issues that podiatrists treat:

  • Bunions [BUHN-yuh ns]. This is a boney bump around the base of the joint of either the big or little toe that can be caused by arthritis [ar-THRY-tis] or other inherited conditions. It can also be caused by wearing shoes that are too tight.
  • Calluses and corns. Repeated friction and pressure causes the skin to form a thick upper layer, creating patches of skin that harden into calluses or corns.  Corns are similar to calluses, but are usually thicker and deeper in the skin. Calluses are usually not painful, but corns can be.
  • Hammertoes. Hammertoes happen when the middle joint of a toe bends so that the toe does not point forward, but is bent instead like a claw. This condition can cause pain and worsen over time until it affects your ability to move or wear shoes comfortably.
  • Warts. These hard, grainy growths that can occur on toes and feet and can spread. This is caused by a viral infection on the top layer of skin. These can be painful and can be mistaken for a callus or corn.
  • Foot fungus. Feet and toes are prone to developing fungal problems because they are often kept wet and warm in socks all day. This can lead to athlete’s foot or even a skin infection.
  • Ingrown nails. This is a common condition in which the side of the toenail grows into the skin which can lead to pain and infection of the toe. This can also happen when you cut your nails incorrectly or wearing tight shoes.
  • Diabetic foot care. People with diabetes often must take special precautions to care for their feet as they are at increased risk of infection and foot problems because they can have poor sensation as well as decreased blood flow.
  • Fractures. Toes can become fractured or broken due to injury, which is a serious foot condition that requires medical care and in some cases may require surgery.

To avoid these common foot and toe problems, practice daily foot checks to get know your feet and seek medical attention if you have any concerns.

Things to Know

Caring for your toes is an important part of keeping your feet healthy, especially if you are diabetic or have another serious medical condition. To care properly for your toes, practice the following tips on a daily or weekly basis.

 

  • Cut the nails weekly or every other week. Keep your toenails short and clean to avoid infection.
  • Use a toenail clipper to cut your toenails. Toenail clippers are specifically designed to cut toenails and will help you avoid injury.
  • Wash your feet daily. Keeping your feet clean is an important part of avoiding complications like warts or fungus.
  • Cut your toenails straight across and file the edges into a rounded shape. This avoids jagged edges that could get caught and cause ingrown nails.
  • Don’t poke, push, or cut your cuticles. Cuticles are a protective layer that keep infection away from your nail bed. It is best to leave them in place.
  • Change your socks daily. Wet, warm feet help fungus grow, so keep your feet dry and clean.
  • Wear flipflops in public showers or pool areas. It may be tempting to go barefoot, but with bare feet you may expose yourself to fungus or germs that can cause foot problems.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Avoid shoes that pinch, apply too much pressure, or cause blisters.
  • Eat a healthy diet to maintain strong nails. A diet that has a variety of fruits, vegetables, and protein can assist in growing strong nails that resist damage.
  • Help children care for their feet and toenails. Assist your child in cutting nails and caring for their feet to avoid health problems and infection.

Practicing these simple prevention tips will ensure you reduce the risk of developing foot or toe problems. If you do encounter issues with your toes or feet, schedule an appointment to speak to your doctor who can refer you to a podiatrist as necessary.