Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Losing a Toenail from Running

Years ago, when I was training for a half marathon at the end of my senior year of college, I had a pair of running shoes that did not quite fit me right. As a result, I developed blisters on the ends/tops of both of my second toes (the ones next to the big toes). Eventually the nail on both toes turned purple and came off revealing new nails underneath. This was not particularly painful, but it was a mildly disturbing experience nonetheless.

Apparently, this is very common among runners. Losing a toenail is generally caused by damage to the nail due to impact from one’s running shoes. This often happens when the runner’s second toe is longer than the big toe, as is the case with me.

I bring this up, because it’s happening again – though only on one foot this time. I just bought a new pair of running shoes a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been completely happy with them. After trying several different models on, I wasn’t super excited about how any of them felt, but my old shoes were badly worn out, so I settled on this year’s version of the shoe I had last year. It should be the same shoe as far as fit goes, but it is not.

The best way to prevent toenails from falling off is to wear running shoes that are a half size larger than you would normally wear. This increases the space in the toe box decreasing the amount of impact of the toes on the ends of the shoes. I thought I had selected a shoe with lots of room in the toe box, but my purple nail now tells me that it wasn’t enough.

The problem is that your feet swell when you run. This is not a big surprise, but it means that if you try a pair of shoes on after you’ve been sitting at your desk at work all morning (yah…that was me), they are not going to fit the same as when you run in them. Perhaps the lesson here is to go for a run before trying to buy my next pair of running shoes.

But now that I am stuck with the shoes I have (at least temporarily), I have been looking for ways to prevent further damage to my toes and to possibly allow this purple nail to heal up without falling off. I’ve tried different socks, petroleum jelly, and Band-Aids. Yesterday, I bought a gel toe protector that slides over the toe like a glove finger and provides some cushion. I did a short run with it, but I haven’t decided whether I like it yet or not. Does it take up too much of the precious space in my shoe, or does it protect my nail more? Is it too tight or is some compression normal? Only further trials will tell.

Have you ever lost (or almost lost) a toenail from running? What did you do to prevent it from happening again? Has anyone run with a gel or silicone toe protector before? Share your toenail treatment secrets!


  1. Just as a quick update:
    I have not lost the toenail yet. It is bruised underneath, but it may not actually fall off. I'm not sure yet. I may have protected it sufficiently to save it. I guess we'll see next week after my long run - 16 miles.

  2. Sports shoes are more flexible and lighter. Choosing the right shoes is a must.

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