When a toenail is ingrown, it is curved and grows into the skin, usually at the nail borders (the sides of the nail). This ‘digging in’ of the nail irritates the skin, often creating pain, redness, swelling, and warmth in the toe. If an ingrown nail causes a break in the skin, bacteria may enter and cause an infection in the area. Even if the toe isn’t painful, red, swollen, or warm, a nail that curves downward into the skin can progress to an infection.

Causes of Ingrown Toenails Include:

  • Heredity. In many people, the tendency for ingrown toenails is inherited. Trauma. Sometimes an ingrown toenail is the result of trauma, such as stubbing your toe, having an object fall on your toe, or engaging in activities that involve repeated pressure on the toes, such as kicking or running.

  • Improper trimming. The most common cause of ingrown toenails is cutting your nails too short. This encourages the skin next to the nail to fold over the nail.

  • Improperly sized footwear. Ingrown toenails can result from wearing socks and shoes that are tight or short.

  • Nail Conditions. Ingrown toenails can be caused by nail problems, such as fungal infections or losing a nail due to trauma.

Home Care

If you don’t have an infection or a medical conditions such as diabetes or poor circulation, you can soak your foot in warm water and Epson salts for 10 minutes and gently massage the side of the nail fold to help reduce the inflammation. A topical antibiotic such as polysporin may be applied.

When to See the Doctor

If there is excessive redness, swelling, pain or drainage it is time to see your doctor, an oral antibiotic may need to be prescribed. Once the infection is under control, have the nail seen by a foot care professional.

**Avoid attempting ‘bathroom surgery.’ Repeated cutting of the nail can cause the condition to worsen over time.

Preventing Ingrown Toenails

Many cases of ingrown toenails may be prevented by:

  • Proper trimming. Cut toenails in a fairly straight line, and don’t cut them too short. You should be able to get your fingernail under the sides and end of the nail. If you are not able to cut your own nails or have difficulty managing them on your own, make an appointment with a foot care professional.

  • Well-fitted shoes and socks. Don’t wear shoes that are short or tight in the toe area.Avoid shoes that are loose, because they too cause pressure on the toes, especially when running or walking briskly.


Go Back To Foot Conditions List