Reader to Reader: Toenail Trouble

Are black toenails just a fact of running life, or can they be avoided?


Posted: 26 September 2006
by Jane Hoskyn


This week, one RW member discovers the trouble with tootsies...

"I recently changed my running shoes for a much roomier pair. However, two of my toes (next to the big toe on each foot) get numb each time I run, and the nails are getting blacker and blacker. I'm becoming rather self-conscious! Any tips that'll make a difference? Will I have to keep my feet covered up at all times so that I don't frighten any children/horses/innocents?"
Taralotmate

Your answers...

  • I had the same problem during my first London Marathon. Now I slip a bit of padding under the tongue of my shoe to stop my toes sliding forward, and black toenails are a thing of the past. What works best for me are those 'chicken fillets' that you can
    put inside your bra for a boost. A 34B seems to be the snuggest fit. – heidrun humphries
  • My Grandad swore by collecting sheepswool straight off the hedge and wrapping each toe individually to prevent sore toes, and to cure black ones. I still do this on long cross-country runs. For long road runs, I wrap each toe with a layer of micropore tape to stop each toenail digging into the next toe. It also prevents blisters between the toes. Not as romantic as sheepswool, but it's tricky finding a handy sheep in sunny Southampton! – Carol Bradwell
  • Black toenails are caused by pressure on the nail, which causes bleeding under it. The normal cure is to make sure that your shoes have lots of room for expansion when you run. I believe that in your feet can expand by up to 10 per cent during a marathon, caused by the continuous pounding and 'flattening' of the foot as well as a tendency for blood to increase down at ground level (gravity?). Mostly an extra half size of shoe will do. – Johnny J
  • As soon as I get to 30-35km the throbbing starts, because there's fluid building up under the toenail. The pressure is like toothache: it just won't go away until you get it sorted out. So a candle, box of matches and a paperclip are part of my running gear. I heat the end of the paperclip until it's red hot, and carefully melt a hole in the toe nail. There's instant relief as the fluid under the toenail is released. Sometimes I've needed even more drastic measures: after running the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon (34.8 miles) and the Comrades Marathon (54 miles) this year, I had to have both my big toenails pulled off. I can't put the pain into words! – MOL
  • After a half marathon I developed black toenails, an ache in the ball of my feet, and also an ache in my groin. It all seemed linked. I went to a great NHS physio who identified a gait problem when I get tired. I roll my feet around more and hold my toes rigid, anticipating an uneven foot fall. Core strength exercises have helped me run more evenly. The fledgling new toenail is in good health! – Stewart Macbride
  • The occasional black toenail is a badge of honour and should be purposely shown off to friends to freak them out. – LynneW
  • My friend, who frequently has nails fall off, just paints the skin with nail varnish. If you look quickly it's hard to notice. If you insist on showing your tootsies to the world and one toenail is black, get the darkest polish you can and pain the others to match. Also, I think it's the ridge at the toe of the sock that does the damage, so seamless socks might help. – Kazbar
  • When my toenail first went black it was pretty nasty. The doctor pierced it and left it to heal/drop off. If it's actually hurting it's worth having it checked. – keswick1uk
  • My black toenail, which I've had for two years now, has recently fallen off. I feel really lost without it. It looked like a witch's toe might look. A few years ago I had a black toenail taken off, and the doctor found three toenails that had grown under it and had all gone the same way! I'm proud of mine because it shows I'm a runner. – MiniEgg
  • I've never had a black toenail, and I think this is because I always get shoes where I can fit my thumbnail inbetween the end of the shoes and the end of my longest toe. – annajo
  • After a year of various nails going black and dropping off, experimenting with socks and shoes... I am convinced that you need larger running shoes. Often the second toe ends up sticking out beyond the big toe when running, and the foot is forced down and spreads as it gets hot. – Blister
  • In ten years of running I've not had one black toenail. I feel cheated. – Tequila
  • I've tried bigger shoes, but this makes the toes very sore as my whole foot seems to move within the shoe. Take it as a pleasant side effect of running and plod on regardless. – Kevin Heaton
  • I've lost all 10 toenails hiking, and starting losing both big toenails when I took up running. I changed to larger shoes, wear double layered socks and lace my shoes up properly to stop forward movement of my foot in my shoe. The result is miles of bliss, no blisters and all toenails present and accounted for. – Pengwin Rock
  • I too have a black scary toenail, and some exciting blood blisters on the end of said toe (but I popped them and they haven't come back). I thought I was unique. Hrumph. – veganrunner
  • I had recurrent black toenails until I started using toe-protectors. Boots do some gel-filled ones that are really comfortable. They're a bit pricey, about a fiver each, but for a full complement of toenails I think they're worth it! – KatieK
  • L'Oreal's Black Cherry nail varnish is great for hiding black toenails, and it lasts and lasts. Once they've started to pop off, though, there's nothing for it but a trip to the salon to have an acrylic replacement. I've run with a couple of these on and they've been absolutely fine! – Bax
  • Try using more than one pair of run shoes! Keep two pairs (different brands) on the go at once, and chop and change between them. – Rob Williams
  • I've tried bigger shoes, seamless socks, regular pedicures and Chanel Rouge Noir. All have helped, but black or missing toenails are just a fact of life now. – wee mo
  • I'd been running in the same shoes for six months when suddenly one of my toes went black. I blame Tony Blair. – Roger Rabbit


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Despite changing my running shoes for a much roomier pair that are really comfortable and supportive (proper off road gel ones that cost a packet), my toe (the one next to the big one on both feet!)keeps on getting really numb each run I do and the nail gets blacker and blacker.

I keep having to paint my toe nails as I am becoming rather self concsious at the faintly disgusted looks that appear on my colleagues faces when they cast their eyes downwards!

Help!

Any hints/tips that'll make a difference? My feet have never been my most attractive feature and I'm now thinking that I'll have to keep them covered up at all times in order to not frighten any children/horses/innocents that I might stand near to.
Posted: 04/09/2003 at 21:36

I have at present two black toenails so welcome to the club. Changing your socks may help.
Posted: 04/09/2003 at 21:40

Welcome to running!
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 07:06


The occasional black toenail is a badge of honour and should be purposely shown-off to friends to freak them out/impress them.


Posted: 05/09/2003 at 07:42

My friend, who frequently has nails fall off, just paints the skin anyway - if you look quickly it's hard to notice.

For black nails, just get the darkest polish you can if you insist on showing your tootsies to the world.

I personally think it's the ridge at the toe of the sock that does the damage so if you can get seamless socks it might help.
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 07:54

Seamless Sock Shop here I come!

Thanks.
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 07:59

Started running. First race:a bigtoe nail went black. Eventually it grew back and then on my next race (a half) went black again! That was March 03 and I still have a half black nail. Sort of becoming used to it now.


Posted: 05/09/2003 at 08:20

Mines not black but a sort of purpleish and feels bruised. Also is the one next to big toe on left foot. I've got 1000 mile socks which seem good but also puchase X-Socks and did long run in them on Sunday. Bruiing seemed to appear after that. I'm not using the X Socks and seeing if bruising goes away.

Prozac
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 09:48

Snap! After reading the threads, I think that I'm going to be proud of mine now!
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 10:12

I'm about to lose my 4th toe nail..and have just invested in some 1000 mile socks to see if this helps...apparently they do...i wore em to plod for the first time last night and my feet really did feel weird but no sign of any blisters or lose nails...:-)
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 10:45

My black toe nail, which I've had for two years now, has recently fallen off, and I feel really lost without it. It looked like a witch's toe might look. I've had it taken off a few years ago, and the doctor found three toe nails which had grown under it and had all gone the same way!

I'm proud of mine because it shows I'm a runner!!
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 13:42

This is a bit grime. When I had a black toe nail it felt as though there was a load of pressure behind it/it was throbbing. I got a paper clip, heated it up using a lighter and pressed on the top of the nail. I kept doing this until it had gone through. It was gross all this blood came out...but I didn't loose my nail and it all healed up fine. Sounds grime but afterwards it felt like heaven.
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 13:48

*nice* Effie!
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 14:53

X-socks Prozac? How are they different to 1000 milers? Still get blisters in 1000s
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 14:54

try shoes at least a half a size bigger, I have never had a black toenail and I think this is because I always get shoes that fit so that I can fit my thumbnail inbetween the end of the shoes and the end of my longest toe.

Xsocks and 1000 mile socks are two different makes of socks, I dont like 1000 mile socks as i still get blisters in them, but xsocks are very comfy and I have been ok in them so far. 1000 mile socks are the double layer ones, but are very simple apart from that. Xsocks have more tecnhological stuff in them than some running shoes!
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 16:12

cool might try those then - so much for the 1000 mile sock guarantee then!
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 16:14

Ok so I must get used to having black toenails- fine!

It's so uncomfortable though- throbs gently most of the time.

Looks like lots of other layers of nail have grown around/above/below it too-----looks really delightful!
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 17:37

When mine first went black it was pretty nasty. The doctor pierced it and released pressure underneath then left it to heal/drop off.

If its actually hurting it might be worth having it checked to see if you can have it made more confortable.

I use Thorlos. Great socks and wouldn't be witout them but I still got the black toenail and there is one area I always get blisters.
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 17:42

After a year of various nails going black and dropping off, experimenting with socks and shoes..I am convinced that you need larger running shoes. Often the 2nd toe ends up sticking out beyond the big toe when running and the foot is forced down with pressure, and the foot spreads as it gets hot anyway.Try getting bigger shoe with roomier toe box.Also I find that if I a sterilised needle slightly between nail and skin underneath immediatly after run when nail is blue/red, this immediatly releases fluid stuff..eases pressure and saves nail, howvever since getting bigger shoes I have not had any black nails fo 5 months
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 20:01

As annajo says; there is more technical BS in the XSock literature than you can shake a stick at ie they apparently have an Air Conditioning Channel !!! Phooey.
Total pap. They're comfortable but time will tell if they're causing the bruised toe.
I haven't had any blisters with the 1000 miles but paula and rob have. great guarentee!! I happen to like them. The Thorlo's look too warm for my liking.
Just a personnal thing. And maybe useful in winter.

Prozac
Posted: 05/09/2003 at 22:18

i've been running in the same shoes now for 6mts when suddenly one of my toes went black. don't think my feet have grown so i'm not convinced about the size solution. i blame tony blair and his stupid politics.
Posted: 19/09/2006 at 00:42

I had run in the same trainers and socks, throughout my whole half marathon training, with no problems.

Come race day, bruised toe nail!!!

This was in March. It turned black and finally started to come loose in July!!

After a long soak in the bath, managed to get it soft enought to lift and cut off as much as possible.

Its now almost grown back, and looks almost normal.

Although have another half in December, so will no doubt start the whole thing over again!!!!

Like others have said "Badge of Honour!!"
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 12:31

I've been sporting 2 black (dark Purple) toe-nails for the past 2 months since training 5 days a week, nothing dropped off as yet.

I love them, think they look really cool!
They generally don't hurt and I keep the nails trimmed weekly.

Just changed shoes to Asics Gel, they have a really wide front compared to my previous Adidas and there's plenty of space for toes to move around, will see if this improves them.

Changed from normal socks to X-Socks about 3 weeks ago but they didn't make any difference to the toes, very nice comfy socks though.
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 12:47

The only time I've ever had problems with black toenails is from the Stratford marathon. I've done 5 marathons in total, 2 of them were at Stratford, and I had at least one black nail each time.

The only thing I can think of is the colour of the running surface-the last 4/5 miles are on the Greenway which is a very light colour, presumably causing sunlight to be reflected back at my feet. All of my running otherwise is on roads or footpaths-which tend to be darker.
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 13:29

Afetr a marathon I also had a lovely purple nail. I had the nice padded socks, and shoes half a side bigger so think it is a badge of honour! Now only have a half nail and even that is only losley attached!!!
It is good to scare small children with though!!
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 14:36

My black nails seem to relate to one pair of shoes. When I first started running earlier this year I soon has 4 black toes (the 2nd & 3rd on both feet). These eventually came off and normal nails grew back in their place. These nails were fine when I changed shoes but around 3 weeks ago I did a 10k in my old shoes and ended up with 2 sore nails again. I have used the hot needle method to get rid of the pain and save the nail and am ok again now.

Socks haven't made a difference, as whilst I changed my shoes, my socks remained the same.

Now I realise what a badge of honour they are I must think about leaving them black in order to show them off next Spring!!
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 15:03

That's it I'm off to B & Q for some black emulsion.

In ten years of running I've not had one black toe nail. I feel cheated, so not fair.
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 15:11

For me, it comes from a combination of shoes being too small and running style. When I first started running, I simply went to a regular sports shop and bought shoes that match my size for routine footwear. Black nails on both big toes were a constant feature for the first 15 months as a result of three half marathon races, although not training.

My running style differs slightly in races as I run more agressively at distance and could feel my toes pushing the tops of the shoes.

6 months ago, I bought a new pair under guidance of a specialist running shop. The shoes are a half size bigger and I haven't had the prblem since. It's also worth mentionining the top/front of the shoes are made from breathable material, not solid. I have noticed holes have started to appear in both left and right shoes where my big toes have pushed during races. I'd rather this than the black toes.
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 15:20

Most problems don't just happen. There's usually a cause. In the case of black toenails it's caused by pressure on the nail which causes bleeding under it. The normal cure is to make sure that your shoes have lots of room for expansion when you run. You may have obtained a shoe with a wider toe-box but is the shoe longer as well? It's normally your toe coming into contact with the end of the shoe when you run that wrecks the nail.

I believe that in a marathon your feet can expand by up to 10% during the run caused by the continuous pounding and 'flattening' of the foot as well as a tendency for blood to increase down at ground level (gravity?).

So, the usual answer is longer shoes. Mostly an extra half size will do but a whole size increase isn't unusual.
JJ
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 15:27

My toenails have been perfectly well-behaved since I started wearing shoes half a size bigger. Funny, that.

But my best "black toenail" experience happened before I ever started running. This was during my clubbing days. (I also got a stress fracture after a night at Fabric... kind of a badge of honour.) The toenail in question was on my left big toe. First purple, then black, then I just had to wait for it to fall off. The actual falling off was a fantastic moment: like a chrysalis. Beautiful shiny toenail underneath, like a pink polished stone :)
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 16:40

I lost both my second toe nails when I first started running seriously. Despite it taking me a couple of months to link the running with the toenails I have to say that since going up a shoe size with my running shoes I only ever get a problem if I let my toe nails grow to the end of my toes. When this happens I believe the impact of your running hits the end of the toe nail and transfers to the toe nail bed where it can cause damage leading to bleeding (black toe nails) or lifting (no toe nails). Bigger shoes, shorter nails should sort the problem IMO!
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 17:37

i LOVED my black toenails,

and had usually two, both on the toes beside the biggie.

they hurt a week bit if i hit them on stuff, or with a hammer, or tried to pull them off, but apart from that there's no problem.


they have since disappeared with time and now do not return, even when i wish for them,

i think it's the consequence of increasing milegae to more than jogging proportions.



Posted: 22/09/2006 at 17:47

My beloved didn't appreciate my badges of honour - she insisted that my black nails be painted before we went on holiday.

I wanted to paint them all black.

Guess who got her own way !!!
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 19:47

I'm with Fat fyes - occassional purple or "thickened" nails but my only real problem came after london marathon. I had forgotten to trim my nails before and had lots of problems. My big toe is only growing back now!. The only other thing I would add is that regular (every 3 or 4 months) a visit to the chiropodist for some tlc is an investment.
Posted: 22/09/2006 at 20:12

the pain in mine is keeping me awake
Posted: 23/09/2006 at 03:36

Both my big toenails dropped off after my first marathon. I thought I had the right size shoes, but I then got one size too big and my tootsies were fine after the next marathon!! For now i suggest investing in some groovy coloured nail varnish till you're all healed up!!
Posted: 23/09/2006 at 03:55

I have just one toenail that plays up - the one next to my big tow on my right foot - it -feels- like a blister develops under the toenail.

The skin under the nail looks discoloured, the whole end of the tow is dark and swollen and its very sore to press on the toenail.

It doesn;t hurt -while- running though.

I have sort of helped it by cutting the toe nail very very low - which you would think would hurt a lot, but doesn't, and also - making sure I don't curl my toes as I'm running, but keep them flat and splayed. But it still happens!

Ed
Posted: 23/09/2006 at 09:33

I don't normally lose my toenails once they go black, unless I run the next 2 days hard again. But still, you haven't really lost them, they're in your socks...
I look forward to the blisters on the front edge of my toes as these give me more protection from future blisters and provide a buffer for the toe & nail. I find this mainly happens when I run up/down rather than on the flat, but thats just me.
I've tried the bigger shoe option that some of you have mentioned, but this makes the toes very sore as my whole foot seems to move within the shoe.
Take it as a pleasant side effect of running and plod on regardless..

Posted: 23/09/2006 at 13:44


SFC
I have lost big toe nails in the past when hill walking, usually 'cos the nail was too long, but never ever any other toes. So since I took up running I am always careful to keep all toenails clipped short.
Bought shoes from proper shop, full size bigger so plenty room. X socks - v cumfy with no seams and not too tight.
Still got a black second toe on my first 12m run and another 3, second & thirds, in the half marathon.
I am convinced that it is not the shoes, or the big toe would get it first, but think it is the way the other toes curl and push on to their tips when you push off in running.
I tried running barefoot on firm wet sand and examined the footprints to test this theory and it seems to look good. Try it.
I have no idea what to do about preventing it in future tho'.
Posted: 24/09/2006 at 03:06

I've lost all 10 toenails hiking and starting losing both big toe nails when I started running. Both times were because of my shoes.In my case, the toes kept hitting the front of my boot/shoe with each step and the repetitive trauma caused them to come off.

Now I'm complete with all 10 toenails. My secret? I changed to larger shoes, wear double layered socks and make sure I lace my shoes up properly to stop forward movement of my foot in my shoe. The result is miles of bliss, no blisters and all toenails present and accounted for!
Posted: 24/09/2006 at 08:29

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