Reader to Reader: Toenail Trouble

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?"

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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