Black Toenails: Bruising the Digits

They’re an unsightly and embarrassing problem. You see them on the feet of runners, soccer players, and dancers, changing the look of their feet. Black toenails are a fairly common condition for athletes, especially those using their toes. You don’t have to be an athlete to injure your toenails, though. This may not always be a serious problem, but when it’s uncomfortable, you need to seek care.

Blackening Your Toes

Trauma to the end or your toes can cause damage underneath your hard nail tissue. Tripping, stubbing your toe, kicking something, and dropping a heavy object on your foot are all common injuries that cause nails to darken. However, simply bumping the ends of your toes against the front of your shoes enough times can result in the problem as well. The pressure causes the soft tissue under the nail to bleed. The blood then pools and stains the hard keratin, making your nail look black.

The pooled blood may also cause a build-up of pressure underneath the nail, which can be extremely uncomfortable. Sometimes, the keratin separates from the nail bed and falls off. In rare cases, the pain may also hint at more serious damage, including deep lacerations or broken bones under the nail.

Other Causes for Black Nails

Though blood under the nail is the most common cause, there are a few other potential problems that that may cause black toenails. A build-up of debris and dirt under an infected nail may darken the tissue. You can also develop a malignant melanoma tumor underneath the keratin, though this is fairly rare. Because there are multiple causes for nail discoloration, though, you need to have your condition properly evaluated and diagnosed to be able to treat it properly.

Resolving the Problem

Our team here at NorthPointe Foot & Ankle will carefully examine your lower limbs to determine the source of your nail changes. We may use a variety of tests and tools to accurately diagnose your condition. If we suspect a bone fracture may be involved, your treatment could include X-ray images. Then, we can begin therapies to relieve your discomfort and allow your nail to heal properly.

If pooled blood is causing your discomfort, the fluid will need to be drained to relieve the pressure on your toe. We will carefully puncture the nail with a sterile needle to allow the fluid to leak out. Once it is drained, your pain should decrease. A loose nail that is falling off may be removed to prevent it from tearing and causing more pain. If serious lacerations or fractures exist, the nail may need to be excised to allow our team to address the damage. Deep cuts will need to be cleaned and possibly sutured closed to prevent infections. Fractures will need to be splinted and addressed differently so the bone recovers.

Black toenails aren’t usually a serious problem, though they can be quite uncomfortable. The key is to relieve the painful pressure or other damage to allow new, healthy keratin to regrow and replace the damaged areas. Don’t ignore your toes when they hurt; contact NorthPointe Foot & Ankle to take care of your nails today. Use the online request form or call (248) 545-0100 to reach our Berkley, MI, office for an appointment