Black Toe Joe

One day after a significant amount of training you might come home, remove your shoes, and notice a black toenail. Don’t panic.  Instead, be proud.  Sounds insane but a black toenail is seen as a success symbol.  It’s ugly and unsightly but don’t you dare cover it up with a band aid or some nail polish, wear it out proudly with some flip flops and show the world you’re a serious athlete – in training.

What caused the black toenail?
As you walk or run, your foot slides forward in your shoe banging your toes towards the top and the sides of your shoe.  Your feet also swell during a walk or run and get compressed by your socks or shoes. The pressure and impact can damage the toenail bed. The tissue gets damaged and fluid accumulates causing the “black” toe which is essentially dried blood underneath your toe from a few broken capillaries.

Is it painful?
This depends on how significant the injury was. If the toe is swollen or has a blister underneath, it will be painful. The pain may go down after a few hours but if I doesn’t, you can relieve the pressure by sterilizing a needle and putting it in the flame of a match or lighter until the tip is red hot, letting it cool, and then sending it into the thin layer of the skin near the toenail bed where you see the fluid and allowing it to release.  If you are uncertain about this, it’s best to seek out a doctor and have them perform the procedure or wait until the injury starts to heal itself.

Can a black toenail be prevented?
Yes and no.  When buying shoes for an endurance event, always make sure they fit comfortably. You will want to allow for extra room at the top to prevent your toe from slamming forward – about an inch and a half. Have your foot measured at the store to insure the proper fit.  We often think we know what the best fit is but our feet go through phases and often swell in the summer, shrink in the winter.

Speaking of summer, your feet will swell.  If you bought your shoes in the winter, you might not have enough space for your feet which will likely cause a black toenail.  Or your socks will be too tight.  It might take a black toenail to figure out something is wrong and you need to fix it.

Will the black toe nail last forever?
No.  The toe will continue to grow pushing the dried fluid out and clearing the toe nail bed.  After 4-5 months, your toe will be brand new again and ready for the next black toenail experience.

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