Thick Toenail Causing Ingrown Nail Pain?

October 1, 2022

Having thick toenails can be frustrating, disheartening and painful for several reasons. They can be extremely difficult to cut through, can lessen the room in the toe box of your shoe and become painful – and can make wearing open sandals that show off the toes unappealing. Thickened toenails often become discoloured and can look like they have a fungal nail infection brewing. On top of all this: could thicker toenails increase your likelihood of developing an ingrown toenail? Actually – they can. As the nail bulk increases, part of the nail can start growing into the skin – whether that’s from a thicker nail having more frayed edges and nail spicules, from shoes ‘pushing’ against the end of the toe and nail and driving it into the skin, or simply from the way the thickened nail is growing. So what should you know about thickened toenails and how can you stop them from growing thicker? Let’s take a look.

Signs & Symptoms Of Toenail Thickening

Toenail thickening occurs gradually. As such, you may not notice it developing, especially early on. As the condition progresses, some common signs and appearance changes include:
  • The nail becomes firmer and more difficult to trim
  • You may find dirt, dead skin and debris building up beneath the nail
  • You may feel pain or discomfort from pressure on the nail from footwear
  • Your nail may become brittle, may flake or split – if this happens you may find it your nail catching on your socks or hosiery
  • An unpleasant smell may begin at the nail
  • The nail may lift from the nail bed

What Causes Toenails To Become Thick?

Most often, our toenails get thicker as we grow older as a simple byproduct of our natural ageing process. With age, the rate at which our toenails grow slows down due to reduced blood circulation, especially in our extremities. This causes our nail cells to build up and our nails to thicken. Interestingly, men are more likely to suffer from thickening nails than women. 

Am I At Risk Of Getting Thick Toenails?

While age is a common factor, there are a number of other risk factors that may contribute to the thickening of toenails:
  • Fungal nail infections – these may also create a yellow/white discolouration in the nails, there may be some brittleness or flaking, the nail may lift upwards, and there may be an unpleasant smell
  • Reduced blood flow to the feet – can also promote nail thickening, whether it happens naturally due to ageing or from medical conditions like diabetes or peripheral vascular disease
  • Repeated trauma or injury – this means repeated knocking or damaging the toe bed by objects falling onto the feet, stubbing the toenails, or even participating in sports: runners, dancers, football and rugby players commonly lose their nails and have thickened toenails
  • Footwear – the pressure from wearing tight or restrictive footwear such as high-heels or where toes are unable to be splayed can cause damage to the nail cells over time. When the nail growing cells become damaged, the nails may grow back thick and disfigured over time 
  • Psoriasis – psoriasis is often mistaken for a fungal nail infection with thickened, discoloured, brittle or flaky nails

Can I Do Anything To Stop My Nails From Thickening With Age?

While we can’t stop the natural ageing process, we may be able to reduce the risk by completing regular exercise to help promote our circulation, being proactive in treating any fungal infections when we first notice them, and making the effort to wear quality ergonomic shoes that have plenty of space in the toe box for our toes to move freely. If our workplace means we’re at higher risk of falling objects on our feet, we can protect them by wearing steel-capped boots.

How Should Thickened Nails Be Trimmed?

It is very difficult to cut a thickened toenail without the correct tools, and many standard nail clippers have been broken in the process! It is recommended to file a thickened nail rather than cut it, in order to prevent harming the nail and the surrounding skin. Filing the nail 2-3 times a week can help to keep the thickness reduced, however, it can be awkward and difficult to do this safely at home. This is why  patients choose to see our podiatrists, who professionally reduce the thickness of the nail easily and accurately with precision tools and the right equipment.

Qualified Podiatrists For Thick Toenails And Ingrown Nails

We’re proud to be Auckland’s leading podiatry team, trained in providing expert care for both thickened nails and ingrown toenails – including when both occur together! To safely and painlessly treat thick toenails, we start by using heavy-duty nail clippers to reduce the length of the toenails, and then use a unique burr to significantly reduce their thickness – and give them a clean, smooth finish. We also used a blacks file to clean down the sides of the nail, and beneath the nail where possible. Our patients greatly enjoy this process, and they often walk out feeling much happier and more confident to show their improved toenails with open-toed shoes and sandals. We can also help to determine the cause of your thickened nails to help reduce the likelihood of them recurring. Book your appointment with our podiatrists in Remuera by calling us on 09 523 2333 or book online here.