Ingrown toenails hurt, and the sharp pain and pressure they cause can make each stride unbearable, forcing you to skip running for days.
“An ingrown toenail occurs when the corner or border of a toenail—most commonly the big toe—impinges or otherwise irritates the surrounding soft tissue of the toe, resulting in painful inflammation that can puncture the skin and cause acute infection,” says Michael J. Trepal, a podiatrist at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine.
Here’s everything you need to know about why you get ingrown toenails, how to get rid of them, and how to prevent them so you never miss a day of training again:
What causes ingrown toenails?
Although they may seem to come out of nowhere, there are a few things that can spur on an ingrown toenail. “The most common causes include ill-fitting shoes that are too tight on the toe—such as high heels forcing more pressure on the front of your foot and pushing your toes into the end—improper clipping, and history of trauma to the nail,” says Christopher R. Hood Jr., a podiatrist at Premier Orthopaedics in Pennsylvania.
And running automatically ups your risk. “Any activity with repetitive pressure of the nail in the shoe, such as running, biking, or other sports, can put you at risk for an ingrown nail,” adds Ellianne M. Nasser, a podiatrist at Geisinger Medical Center.
An ingrown nail could also just be caused by the way your foot is shaped. “It can be anatomic," Hood says. “For example, your toe bone shape dictates nail growth, which can create naturally curved nails, or too large of a nail for a smaller toe that creates a space issue.”
How to treat ingrown toenails:
There are a few ways to relieve the symptoms at home. “Warm water soaks and gentle massage may provide temporary relief of inflamed tissue,” Trepal says. Adding in Epsom salt helps, too, according to Hood.
You can also try getting rid of an ingrown toenail with a topical treatment. “Over the counter topical medications—such as a triple antibiotic ointment or salicylic acid products—work to soften the skin or nail,” Hood says. “And [anti-inflammatory pain killers like asprin and ibuprofen] should help with pain relief.”
But you shouldn’t wait too long to get things checked out if your ingrown nail doesn’t show signs of healing after a couple of days of treating it yourself.
“If the issue is not getting better over a few days, see your foot doctor for professional care,” Hood says. “You should see a physician if there’s any drainage that is thick, yellow, milky, or looks like pus, if there’s bright redness to the skin fold or toe, or if you have symptoms of nausea, fever, or chills.” Your doctor will most likely drain the pus from your nail and prescribe antibiotics, according to Trepal.
A version of this article appeared on Runnersworld.com