Sunday, April 19, 2009

Eww Yuck! Blackened Toenails

Raise your hand if you've ever had a blackened toenail? Or better yet, had one completely fall off as a result of running? I'm guessing there are a lot of raised hands. Novice runners are usually shocked and surprised while experienced runners wear them with pride. So what causes this odd occurrence?

Usually the root of the problem is an ill-fitting shoe. Toenails can become bruised and/or irritated when they either touch the front end of the shoe or brush against the top of the shoe. I earned my first and only blackened toenail in my first marathon. I did two big no no's. First I wore a fairly new pair of running shoes and secondly they were too small. You learn from your mistakes, right? Well, the cause of my toe woes is one of the most common causes of blackened toenails—shoes that are too small or too tight. Shoes that are too large, however, can also be the culprit. If there is too much room in the toebox and your forefoot isn't held securely in place, then your toes are going to bang around hitting the end and/or top of the shoe.

The reason the toe turns black is pretty simple—it's a bruise. The banging of the toenail against the end or top of the shoe causes soreness and/or irritation and if it continues long enough, then bleeding occurs beneath the toenail. If this happens, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months of the blood to work its way out. For many runners, the blackened toenail will actually fall off. Don't worry, it grows back. The trapped blood provides the perfect conditions for a bacterial infection, so if the condition of the toe worsens and/or it's taking a long time for the nail to heal, visit your doctor and have it checked out pronto.

Even though many runners prize their blackened toenails like a rite of passage, it's best to do what you can to avoid getting them altogether. The best way to avoid the blackened toenail is to make sure your shoes fit. Use the following tips to help you get the best fit:
Sizing—running shoes often run a half-size to a full-size smaller than dress shoes, so you'll need to go up a half-size or a whole-size in many running shoes. For example, I normally wear an 8.5 or 9 dress shoe, but in a running shoe I typically wear a 9.5 or 10. Also keep in mind that wearing thick socks such as Thorlos® Running Thick Cushion Socks or wearing some type of orthotics may cause you to go up a half- or whole-size. RoadRunner Sports does a great job of letting you know in their catalog and online shoe descriptions whether to order a half- or whole-size larger. I've found that you can also call most of the online retailers and they're very helpful in providing sizing information. The best way to ensure a good fit is to purchase your shoes from your local running store. I've found that the independent, locally owned running stores usually have more knowledgeable staff than the big chain stores. Sometimes the online deals are just too hard to pass up, especially these days. But, to ensure the best fit, especially if you're trying a different brand or model, you may want to try on the shoes at your local running first before placing the order. (While you're there, be sure to support your local running store by purchasing some other running supplies and/or gear.)
ToeBox Wiggle Room—make sure your toes have some wiggle room in the toebox. They should not feel restricted in any way. But also make sure there's not too much wiggle room. Just like your mom used to say, there should be about a thumb's width between the end of longest toe and the end of the shoe. I usually go a step further by bending my foot (as if in mid-step) and then checking to see how much room I have between my longest toe and the end of the shoe. This extra step has really helped ensure I get a shoe that's the right length for me.
Snug Midfoot—make sure that the shoes fit snuggly around the midfoot area. They should feel supportive and secure not tight or restrictive.
No Slip Heels—there should be no slipping on the heel.


George Houston said...

"Novice runners are usually shocked and surprised..." LOL - I freaked out when I got my first black toe nail.

RunnerDude said...

Hey The Tri Runner! Me too man! Mine almost fell off but part of it hung on for dear life. LOL! Took months for it blackness to go away and it's been to years and that toenail had never looked right since. LOL!!

Philip J. Mutrie said...

Hi Thad....

Thanks for the follow on Twitter.... Love your blog.... The toes don't look appealing.... LoL.... I have honestly never heard of this happening to toenails.... Very interesting.... Nice Alexa ranking by-the-way.... :o)

I look forward to reading more and visiting your blog more often....

Philip J. Mutrie
CEO - Founder
Twitter ID:

RunnerDude said...

Hey Philip. Thanks for the feedback! Still new to all of this. How do I find my Alexa ranking?

SuperDave said...

Novice I am!
My toes routinely are sore after a long run, but only a slight bruising.
Sadly I'm too cheap to get fitted and usually buy online.

Dena said...

I've lost one toenail and am currently dealing with one of the oh-so-lovely black toenails. I smother it in nailpolish and hope no one notices. Sigh. Being a runner ain't always pretty...