Ingrown Toenail Treatment and Prevention

ingrown toenails of a dancer
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Most ballet dancers have suffered from at least one ingrown toenail. With all of the balancing and spinning on the tips of the toes, it's easy to see why ballet dancers would be prone to injuries involving the toes. If you are lucky enough to never have had an ingrown toenail, knowing how to recognize the signs may help you to treat it quickly if you ever do.

Overview of Ingrown Toenails

An ingrown toenail occurs when the corner or side of a nail grows into the skin of the toe instead of over it. Most ingrown toenails affect the big toe. An ingrown toenail can sometimes cause extreme pain. In some cases, it becomes infected and must be treated by a doctor.

Symptoms of Ingrown Toenails

Often the first sign of an ingrown toenail is pain. Pain may occur upon putting on tights or ballet slippers. Pointing the toes may be very painful. If an ingrown toenail is severe, dancing (or even walking) is sometimes unbearable.

Watch for these signs and symptoms of an ingrown toenail:

  • Pain and throbbing around the toenail.
  • Red, swollen tissue around the nail.
  • Yellow or reddish drainage around the nail.
  • Extreme pain upon bumping the affected toe.

Causes of Ingrown Toenails

Most ingrown toenails are caused by cutting the toenails too short. If the nail is cut too short, the sides of the nail may begin to grow sideways into the skin. Sometimes ingrown toenails can develop by wearing shoes that are too tight or snug tights that put too much pressure on the toe. Stubbing or jamming the toe may also result in an ingrown toenail.

Dancers often develop ingrown toenails during times of constant dancing, such as during rehearsals for performances or competitions. A bruised or black toenail, or a nail that has been injured, may sometimes become ingrown because the nail begins to grow abnormally. Some ingrown toenails are hereditary, meaning the toenail tends to grow sideways instead of straight out to toward the front of the toe.

Treatment of Ingrown Toenails

If you suspect a mild ingrown toenail, you may try to relieve the pain and pressure yourself at home. Try soaking your foot in a warm foot bath for 10 minutes to soften the skin surrounding the toenail. Soaking sometimes brings instant pain relief because the hardened skin around the nail is often a source of pain. Next, clean around the toenail with hydrogen peroxide and a Q-tip.

Using small nail scissors, try to place a small piece of cotton underneath the toenail where it is growing into the skin. This might hurt a bit, but preventing the nail form sticking into the skin will cause the pain to subside. Dab a little antibiotic ointment onto the nail before loosely covering with a protective band-aid. Repeat the process if needed until the nail begins to heal and grow out. Try to avoid dancing, especially en pointe, until the toenail feels better.

If your ingrown toenail is causing severe pain, swelling and redness, it is best to see a doctor or podiatrist. A doctor may need to surgically remove the portion of the toenail that is growing into the skin and treat a possible infection.

Prevention of Ingrown Toenails

As a dancer, you need to use protective measures in order to keep your feet and toes in good condition and prevent ingrown toenails from occurring.

  • Keep your toenails trimmed, but never cut them too short.
  • Use toe spacers to prevent your big toe from rubbing against your second toe.
  • Practice good hygiene by keeping your toes and feet clean.