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The key to success for a seasoned runner is being prepared. This includes being fit physically, getting appropriate running gear, etc.

One of the medical conditions that many runners dread is the development of a runner's toe, a common ailment that can result in them losing their toenail and/or becoming an impediment to their routine.

What is Runner's Toe?


Causes and Prevention

Runner’s toe is a common condition caused due to creation of downward pressure on the nail or horizontal separation of the nail from the nail bed.

This is a repetitive traumatic injury that causes bleeding as well as pooling of the blood under a person’s nail plate. Clinically, the runner’s toe is characterized by discoloration (reddish-black) of the toenail.

Runner’s toe does not happen overnight. Sometimes, the nail gets discolored due to the pooling of blood underneath. Sometimes, the nail plate can also get brittle or become thicker due to a nail injury.

The deformed nail plate gradually grows out and is a new nail starts growing back in its place over time. A runner’s toe is usually painless, but in case of throbbing pain, the toe might require surgical drainage.

The bleeding happens on the nailbed, which lies below the nail plate. Any laceration to the nail bed results in blood seeping into the constricted area and pooling under the hard nail plate.

You can also develop a blood blister or subungual hematoma in the runner’s toe. This is uncomfortable and might need treatment that can include surgical removal of either a part or the entire nail, under local anesthesia.

A person needn’t be a runner to develop a runner’s toe. You can develop a runner’s toe from an ill-fitting shoe that has insufficient space for the toe.

The key to avoiding a runner’s toe form growing is having proper fitting shoes.

You can also develop runner’s toe from toes slamming either the top part or the bottom of the shoes. This can be prevented by having shoes that are half-size larger than regular street shoes. This helps in reducing the friction between the toes and the shoes.

Some Additional Measures:


  • Tighter laces – helps in preventing the foot slipping out of the shoes
  • Trimming toenails frequently and appropriately
  • Applying tape to the toenail or all nails when going for the run
  • Wearing moisture-wicking socks – helps in having dry feet
  • Wearing toe caps for the affected toes
  • Avoiding nail polish –prolongs the injury and restricts nail from breathing
Usually, the runner’s toe is not painful, so the development of any discomfort or pain is a signal that it’s time to visit the podiatrist who can appropriately treat it.

The Bottom Line

Runner’s toe is a common problem, and proper care can help in its prevention. However, one should also keep in mind that it can also develop due to onychomycosis (fungal infection), in which the affected nails become thick, brittle, or gets discolored (dark-colored or yellow).

Discoloration can also be due to melanoma, which requires prompt treatment lest it becomes life-threatening. If a dark spot does not grow out, then it is time for some medical attention.