Ingrown Toenails

What Are Ingrown Toenails?

Ingrown toenails are a potentially very painful condition in which part of a toenail—typically a corner or the entire edge—begins to dig into nearby skin. It can happen along one or both nail borders, and it can occur on any toe, though the big toes are by far the most vulnerable.

When a nail becomes ingrown, the toe may become increasingly tender, red, and swollen. It may become difficult to wear normal shoes without wincing, and even the slightest bump could have you howling in pain.

Although some ingrown toenails will go away on their own with home care, untreated cases do often get worse instead of better, and may even become infected. This is especially dangerous for people with diabetes, although it’s bad news for anybody. In light of this, professional evaluation and treatment is highly recommended.

clipping toenails

What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

Ingrown toenails are often caused by external factors—in other words, injuries or physical pressures that act upon the toenails. However, this is not always the case.

Usually, at least one of the following factors will be involved:

  • Improper footwear. Shoes that are too small and tight pinch and press on the toenails, while shoes that are too loose may slide around on your foot. This causes the nail to slam into the front of the shoe over and over again.
  • Improper nail trimming. If you cut your nails too short or round the corners with your trimmers rather than cutting straight across, the nails are more likely to become ingrown as they grow out again.
  • Direct injuries. If you stub your toe, drop a heavy object on your foot, etc., an ingrown toenail may follow.
  • Genetic inheritance. Unfortunately, your toenails may simply be naturally very curved based on your genetics. If this is the case, you may continue to develop ingrown toenails over and over again until you get the problem permanently corrected by a podiatrist.

Can I Treat My Ingrown Toenails at Home?

If your ingrown toenail pain is mild, there are no signs of infection, and you do not have any complicating conditions like diabetes or neuropathy, you may wish to attempt home care first. You may try soaking your feet a couple of times per day and using pain relievers. (Don’t try cutting a “V” into your nail – it doesn’t work.)

However, in most situations—even mild cases—we generally recommend you come in and see us. With home care, there’s always a risk the problem will continue to get worse or even lead to an infection. Seeking professional help will bring immediate relief and greatly reduce the risk of nagging, lingering issues.

How Does a Podiatrist Treat Ingrown Toenails?

Most ingrown toenails are fixed via a minor in-office procedure. We numb the toe and then gently cut out and remove the part of the nail border that has become ingrown. (If the ingrown toenail is severe, we may need to remove the entire nail.)

If ingrown toenails have been a recurring problem—or are likely to recur—we may also recommend altering the nail matrix in a way that prevents the ingrown nail border from growing back. In the vast majority of cases this provides permanent prevention of future ingrown toenails in the same location.

The procedures are painless and can be performed within an hour, and most patients are back on their feet performing daily tasks later the same day. Complete healing may take a couple of weeks, although you shouldn’t experience much (if any) pain throughout the process. We’ll make sure you have clear instructions about when you can return to certain specific activities, such as running or sports.

The longer you wait to get treatment, the worse the condition can become. Meanwhile, total relief is available in just minutes when you come and see us. We think it’s an easy call to make! To schedule an appointment at our Waukesha office, please dial (262) 544-0700.

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