How to cut ingrown toenails

How to cut ingrown toenails

Posted 3 Nov '21

Ingrown toenails are a common and painful condition. An ingrown toenail occurs when the nail edge of grows into the skin surrounding it or when the nail pierces the skin from a traumatic incident. When the nail pierces the skin, the pain can be excruciating, especially when an infection is caused.

Ingrown toenails may sound like a minor inconvenience, but the reality is far different. An infected ingrown toenail can be a serious health threat. There are many complications that are linked to this condition. They include:

  • Blood flow loss to the area
  • Infection where the toenail pierces the skin
  • Foot ulcers or open sores
  • Bone infection
  • Tissue decay and tissue death
  • Sepsis from the infection entering the bloodstream

These potential complications highlight the importance of having an ingrown toenail treated as soon as it arises. It may be possible to fix a slightly ingrown toenail by following the below cutting method. However, if you are feeling pain from an ingrown toenail you should visit a health professional immediately.

How to cut ingrowing toenails

As mentioned above you should only try this method if your toenail is slightly ingrown. If you notice redness, an infection, swelling, or moderate to severe pain or tenderness in the surrounding area, you should visit a podiatrist or foot doctor for professional treatment.

1. Acquire the following tools:

  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Cuticle stick
  • Nail file

For a very slightly ingrown toenail:

1. Thoroughly disinfect each tool with rubbing alcohol and let dry.

2. Soak your toe in warm water for 20-30 minutes to soften the nail and skin. You can use a disinfectant like Dettol to ensure the area is very clean and Epsom salt to help the softening process.

3. Dry off the skin.

4. Gently massage the area so that there is adequate blood flow.

5. Gently run the nail file over the affected skin so that dead skin cells are exfoliated away.

6. Use your fingers or a cuticle stick to gently encourage the toenail to uncurl.

7. Wash your hands and the affected area.

8. Lift the toenail very gently and slide a cotton ball under the nail, so that the nail is encouraged to grow in a different direction.

9. Ensure you wear open-toed shoes (or no shoes) while the area heals, closed shoes may push the nail back into the skin.

For a slightly ingrown nail that isn't infected or swollen:

1. Cut the affected toenail straight across, make sure that you don't cut the toenail too short, there should still be at least 1-2 mm of white at the end. It's very important that the nail is cut straight, avoid cutting it in a rounded or pointed shape.

2. With a pair of tweezers, gently push a piece of cotton wool underneath the nail, so that the nail is pulled away from the skin.

3. Identify the area where the nail is pushing on the skin and cut the visible corner away with nail clippers or nail scissors.

4. Clean the affected area thoroughly with a disinfectant.

5. Ensure you wear open-toed shoes (or no shoes) while the area heals, closed shoes may push the nail back into the skin.

When is it time to see a podiatrist?

Any ingrown nail that is causing pain moderate to severe pain or tenderness that has any redness, swelling or pus should be seen to be a professional. The success of the above method depends on the severity of the condition, and while it may help alleviate some pain, most ingrown toenails are stubborn and will continue to grow in the same direction until their trained to grow another way, or treated with surgery.

Another case where it's vital that a podiatrist is seen is if the patient has diabetes. Diabetes is commonly linked to high blood pressure and nerve damage, and poor circulation can be an effect of the disease. Serious cases of nerve damage and reduced blood flow can cause a wound and tissue death, which can result in amputation. Furthermore, another complication of diabetes is diabetic foot ulcers. Diabetic ulcers are ulcerations located on the feet that can lead to serious diseases like gangrene, sepsis, deformities, and amputation.

Thankfully, podiatrists are extremely skilled in treating ingrown toenails. In fact, it's one of the most common conditions we treat. During a consultation, a podiatrist will inspect the nail and determine the best sort of treatment. Even extremely infected toenails can be effectively treated through the correct surgery, as long as it's caught before cell or tissue death.

Tips to prevent an ingrown toenail

Ingrown toenails can be frustrating and painful. However, there are some steps you can take to help to avoid them from forming.

Wear well-fitting shoes

Shoes that are too tight push toes together and make them cramped, they can also push the nail in, so that it has no place to go or grow, but into the skin. This is especially true for people who wear too-tight shoes all day every day (like work shoes or school shoes).

Though it's not as common, it's not just shoes that are too small that cause ingrown toenails, shoes that are too large can also cause ingrown nails. Large shoes may cause the foot to slip and slide, and this can slam the toenail into the front of the shoe, causing irritation that may lead to an ingrown toenail.

Cut toenails correctly

If a nail is cut too short and in a style that tapers at the corners, this can actually encourage an ingrown toenail to form. When a nail is consistently cut in this fashion is encouraging the neighbouring skin to fold over and cause a small lump. When the nail grows out it can grow into this skin. To avoid this always try and leave a minimum of 1-2 mm of white at the end of your toenail and ensure that you can your nails straight across.

Don't wear tight socks or stockings

Ingrown toenails from tight socks or stockings are caused similarly to ill-fitting shoes. A tight sock or stocking can press the toes together and encourage the nail to grow into the skin. Furthermore, socks or stockings create a warm, insulated environment - this can soften the skin, making it easier for the nail to piece it. Plus warm environments are ideal for bacteria to breed in, which is a huge problem for an already ingrown toenail. Even having the bedsheets and blankets tucked in too tight in the beds can cause ingrown toenails.


Are recurring ingrown toenails common?

If you've had an ingrown toenail successfully treated, you may think the problem is treated and won't come back. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. If the ingrown toenail was caused by an external factor, like ill-fitting shoes, then it's very likely the ingrown toenail will come back. It's a good idea to check with your podiatrist what the cause of the ingrown nail was and to make the appropriate changes.

Do podiatrists use anesthetic when conducting ingrown nail treatment?

This will depend on the severity of the condition, your pain threshold and the type of treatment that's required. For slightly infected toenails, no anesthetic is required. For moderate cases, a local anesthetic may be used while the podiatrist conducts the treatment. Perminent solutions where part or all of the toenail needs to be surgically removed, a local anesthetic will be administered.

Are ingrown toenails hereditary?

Yes, genes are one of the most common causes of ingrown toenails. If you know that your mother or father is prone to ingrown toenails, there's a good chance that you may suffer from them too. Ingrown toenails themselves are not genetic, but the shape of a nail or toe is, and this shape may be the cause of the ingrown nail.

How do I know if my toenail is ingrown?

A toenail that's moderately ingrown will usually be painful. If you can identify an ingrown toenail and treat it before you get to this point, you'll avoid escalated symptoms. Healthy toenails should grow straight out of the nail bed and gently rest on the skin without curving or affecting it. If you noticed a nail that looks as though it's curving to grown into the skin, it could likely be the beginning of an ingrown toenail.

  • Some other symptoms of ingrown toenails include:
  • Toe pain
  • Tenderness surrounding a nail
  • Red skin
  • A noticeable infection between the nail and skin (this can be identified by liquid or pus coming out of the area)

Why are ingrown toenails so painful?

As the nail grows into the skin, the skin responds by thickening up. We commonly see hard corns underneath the nail because the pressure from the nail causes the skin to go into protection mode and thicken itself. This creates more pressure on the nerves and eventually the corn ulcerates into a wound which becomes a portal or entry for bacteria.

Book your appointment with our podiatry team online here or call us on (07) 3356 3579.

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