Ingrowing toenails – a basic guide

Ingrowing toenails – a basic guide

With the winter months fast approaching, it’s easy to tuck your feet away forgetting all about them until next summer.  Ingrowing toenails are very common and you can become more prone to them in the winter months as toes are hidden away in shoes, socks and tights.

The College of Podiatry gives its top tips on how to avoid ingrowing toenails and how to keep your feet happy and healthy during the winter months.

What is an ingrowing toe nail?

An ingrowing toenail is one that pierces the flesh of the toe. It can feel as if you have a splinter, and can be extremely painful. In more severe cases, it can cause pus and bleeding. Ingrowing toenails most commonly affect the big toenail, but can affect the other toes too.

Who gets ingrowing toenails?

Active, sporty people are particularly prone, because they sweat more. Women often develop them as a result of cutting nails too low in order to relieve the pressure and discomfort of an curled in toe nail.

Are ingrowing toenails serious?

If left untreated it can be; the infection can spread to the rest of the toe. The quicker you treat it, the less painful the treatment.

What causes it?

Not cutting your toenails properly is one of the main causes, but there are many genetic factors that can make you prone to ingrowing toenails, these can include:

  • Your posture (the way you stand)
  • Your gait (the way you walk)
  • A foot deformity such as a bunion
  • Hammer toes or excessive pronation of the feet (when your foot rolls in excessively)
  • Your nails may also naturally splay or curl out instead of growing straight, encouraging your nail to grow outwards or inwards into the flesh.

“Tight footwear, tight hosiery and tight socks can also push your toe flesh onto the nail so that it pierces the skin,” said podiatrist Lorraine Jones from The College of Podiatry. “If you sweat excessively or don’t rotate your footwear, this makes the skin moist, so that it welcomes the nail like a soft sponge. If you have brittle nails with sharp edges or are in the habit of breaking off bits of nails that are sticking out, you’re more likely to get an ingrowing toenail. However, one of the most common causes is not cutting your toenails properly.” She explained.

Lorraine Jones, podiatrist from The College of Podiatry’s top tips on caring for and avoiding ingrowing toenails:


  • Learn to cut your nails properly. It’s best to use nail nippers (available from chemists) because they have a smaller cutting blade but a longer handle. Cut your nails straight across and don’t cut too low at the edge or down the side. The corner of the nail should be visible above the skin. Also, cut them after a bath or shower when they’re soft.
  • Good hygiene can go a long way to preventing ingrowing toenails. Avoid moist, soggy feet by rotating your footwear so each pair has a chance to dry out thoroughly. Avoid man-made materials and choose socks and shoes of natural fibre. Open-toed footwear or socks around the house are advisable, as is avoiding tight shoes.


  • If you think you have an ingrowing toenail and have booked an appointment with a podiatrist, try relieving the discomfort in the meantime by bathing your foot in a warm salty footbath. This prevents infection and reduces inflammation; a topical antiseptic cream can also be beneficial. Then apply a clean sterile dressing, especially if you have a discharge. Rest your foot as much as possible.
  • If you have diabetes, are taking steroids or are on anti-coagulants, don’t attempt to cut or remove the ingrowing spike of nail yourself.

 If you are particularly prone to ingrowing toenails from underlying problems such as poor gait, your podiatrist may recommend correction of the underlying problem as well as a more permanent solution to the nail itself such as surgery.

How a podiatrist can treat your ingrowing toenail

Podiatrists are health care professionals who look after the feet and lower limbs.

A podiatrist can remove the ingrowing toenail under local anaesthesia so that the area can start to heal and feel comfortable. This is normally performed in a single treatment with dressing appointments afterwards until your toe is fully recovered.

If you have continuing ingrowing toenails, a podiatrist can perform a small surgical procedure to cure them permanently. This surgery can also be performed under local anaesthesia. If your ingrowing toenail is infected your podiatrist can also supply antibiotics.

You can find a local Podiatrist by visiting

For more information on foot health, with free leaflet, tips and to find a podiatrist near to you please visit The College of Podiatry’s website