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Why Do Toenails Thicken?

A number of our patients with ingrown toenails find that their toenails have been thickening with age. For some, this thickness means that the nail is pressing against the top of their shoe, which is pushing the nail into the skin. For others, it’s very uncomfortable and they find their nails difficult to trim – and therefore difficult to prevent from ingrowing. Some are just unhappy with the way their nails look now. 


Today we’re sharing why this happens – and what you can do to reduce the thickness of your nails.


What causes nails to thicken?

Most often, this is a byproduct of our natural ageing process. As we grow older, the rate at which our toenails grow slows, and the nail cells start to build up – so our nails thicken. Other factors that can cause our nails to thicken include:


  • 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 peripheral vascular disease
  • Trauma – this means the pressure from tight footwear on the nails, objects falling onto the feet, stubbing the toes, pressure on the toes in sports, and more. If the nail growing cells become damaged, the nails may grow thick and disfigured
  • Psoriasis – psoriasis is often mistaken for a fungal nail infection with thickened, discoloured, brittle or flaky nails


How can you help prevent nails from thickening?

While we can’t stop the ageing process, we can be prompt in treating any fungal infections when we first notice the changes and take care to wear good shoes with plenty of space in the toe box. If our workplace means we’re at higher risk of falling objects on the feet, we can protect them by wearing steel-capped boots.Getting regular exercise to help promote our circulation may also reduce nail thickening.


If you’re unsure if you have a fungal nail infection but have noticed your nails thickening, we perform a simple in-clinic test that will confirm the presence of a fungal nail infection in 5-minutes.


My nails are already thick. What can I do?

Come in to see our podiatry team. Being experts in ingrown toenail treatment means that we effectively help to prevent ingrown toenails too, which means managing thickened nails. 


We’ll start by using heavy-duty nail clippers to reduce the length of the toenails, and then use a specialised burr to significantly reduce their thickness – and give them a clean, smooth finish! This is something our patients love, often feeling much happier and more confident about the appearance of their toenails afterwards. 


Most people book appointments for this care every 6-12 weeks, depending on how quickly their nails grow. By regularly taking care of their toenails (and any corns and calluses on their feet), we are able to help prevent ingrown toenails too, for those vulnerable to thickened nails growing into the skin.


Book your appointment online here or call us on (09) 523 2333


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About the author

Hanan Kane