Imagine you’ve gone for a long run. You’ve hit your mileage goal, you’re feeling good, and you’re ready to cool down and call it a day. Then you slip off your shoes and notice that your toenails have turned an unsightly dark color. Black toenails are a common, embarrassing problem for many runners and other athletes who stress their toes during activity.
Darkening the Nail
Black toenails are usually caused by some kind of trauma to the ends of the toes. This could happen suddenly—such as dropping a heavy object on your foot—or over an extended period of time from many smaller injuries. Typically the latter is the case for runners. The ends of your toes repeatedly bang against the front of your shoes during your stride. The damage to the nail causes blood to leak under the hard keratin. This stains the nail, causing the dark color you see.
Typically black toenails are fairly harmless, though they can be uncomfortable if enough blood pools underneath them. The pressure of the fluid there can make your toe tender. Sometimes this also causes the nail to separate from its bed and die. The loose tissue will eventually fall off as new nail regrows. The loose portion can cause some discomfort, though, especially if it catches on your footwear and tears. Sometimes a serious injury could fracture the bone underneath the nail. This is extremely uncomfortable and sharply increases your risk for infection and other complications.
Although it’s uncommon, a few other problems could turn your nails black. Some fungal infections are dark. This may be accompanied by swelling, an unpleasant odor, and pain. Even rarer, the discoloration could actually be malignant melanoma underneath the keratin. This is uncommon, but you should have your black toenails evaluated rather than risk ignoring a potentially deadly issue.
Healing the Tissue
For most runners and other athletes, black toenails are a simple problem. All the same, you should have your toes examined for more serious conditions when your nails change colors, especially if it is painful. Dr. Noah Levine and Dr. David Biesinger will check your toes for infections, fractures, melanoma, and any other issue that could cause nail discoloration. Our staff may use a variety of diagnostic tests and images to do this. Once a clear diagnosis has been made, you can begin treatment.
For black toenails that aren’t painful, there isn’t much that can be done to change the color. The darkness will grow out along with the rest of the tissue. If blood is pooled under the nail, however, you’ll need to release the pressure on the toe to experience relief. Our staff may puncture the hard tissue to allow the built-up fluid to drain. If we suspect worse damage in the nail bed, you may need to have the tissue removed so it can be examined and treated.
Preventing black toenails involves protecting your toes from damage. For regular runners and other athletes, this may mean replacing your footwear. Shoes that are too small or don’t support your foot correctly allow the front to pinch and slam against your toenails. A pair with a better fit can help. Keeping your nails trimmed correctly can also make a difference.
Don’t let your unsightly nails keep you from doing what you love. Contact Absolute Foot Care Specialists in Las Vegas for an appointment or more information. We can help you protect your feet and eliminate the problem that is discoloring you nails. Use our website contact form or call (702) 839-2010 to reach us.