Are thick toenails healthy?

Thickened toenails - causes, therapy, and home remedies

When Toenails Thicken - Simple Home Remedies and Therapies

Thickened toenails are also known as wooden nails. Often it is a disease. We speak of wooden nails because the nail not only becomes thicker, but also forms furrows “like tree bark” and turns yellow to brown - “like wood”.

Nail thickening

Nail thickening, known as gryposis, occurs particularly on toenails. This is a disease in its own right. The nail becomes thick and discolored, usually it also bends, grows out of the nail bed or curls up. The nails often become brittle and lose their shine. A thickened nail can cause pain and even make walking difficult. Gryposis is not contagious.

Foot and nail fungus

If it is not gryposis, then it may be a fungal infection. Athlete's foot can also affect the toenails, causing the nails to become brittle and discolored.

Poor hygiene may favor athlete's foot, but careful foot care does not guarantee that you will remain free from it. It is one of the most common fungal infections and a visit to the pool or fitness center is enough to catch the fungus. The good news is that athlete's foot is easy to treat with medical treatment. Every family doctor knows antifungal ointments or sprays that push the fungus back in a few days. Athlete's foot is not a gryposis.

Wrong shoes

The wrong shoes can also change the structure of the nails. Due to constant pressure, the nails no longer grow normally, but adjust their shape to the lack of space that is available to them.

The shoe can be too small if, for example, we are wearing size 40 even though we are 42, or it can be the right length but leave no room for the toes.

This also applies once the shoes are completely in order. But if you have arched arches, pointy shoes are not for you.

Heeled shoes cause particular problems. They bend the foot at an unnatural angle and therefore constantly press on the toes. The sole walker becomes a toe walker, and that overloads the toenails. Friction and pressure can inflame the nail bed and cause gryposis.

Toe misalignment

Conversely, pressure can also arise from a congenital or acquired misalignment of the toes. So they constantly rub against each other or in the shoes and the nails grow tall and crooked, just like with the wrong shoes. The misalignment can trigger gryposis in the long term.

Injury complaints

Gryposis can also result from trauma. Blows, accidents, sprains or dislocations injure the nail root or nail bed. Be it that our big toe gets stuck in the door, or it is a stone that falls on our feet. If the nail root is damaged, the nail can no longer grow normally.

Skin disorders also have an effect when they damage the keratinization. This is especially true for psoriasis. A lack of keratin or melanin also promotes gryposis.

What to do?

A thickened nail that is discolored should be examined by the doctor. Better to steer clear of home remedies before diagnosis. After discovering the cause, foot care is always the order of the day.

If the nail has grown in, the doctor must remove it surgically. This also applies to severe curvatures. Such an operation is carried out under partial anesthesia and usually only takes a few minutes. The exposed nail bed is very sensitive until a new nail has formed and you have to take it easy for a few weeks.

Medical foot care

You can go to a medical foot care practice, but ask your doctor beforehand about the best treatment. In practice, the thickened nail is ground down and shortened, and the experts can also correct curled nails.

Once the cause has been eliminated, be it athlete's foot or the wrong shoes, the podiatrist can restore the nail to its normal shape relatively quickly.

Home remedies for thickened toenails

Always use clean files and scissors to cut your nails. Even if you bother you with the shape of your nail: Don't be brutal. If you cut too deeply, a harmless swelling can turn into a very painful infection of the nail bed. Cream the toenails beforehand. That makes the nails smoother.

Thickened toenails are difficult to cut and file because they are hard. So soak your feet in warm water for about ten minutes before cutting. If you also add curd soap to this, you also disinfect the nails.

Now first file the thickened nails thinner and smoother. First use the coarser side of the nail file, then use the fine side to give the aesthetic finish.

After filing, it is easier to cut with scissors or nail cutters. If you want to prevent the edges of the nail from growing in, don't trim the sides too much. Follow the edge of the skin. Even if a crescent-shaped nail is considered more beautiful, leave little corners behind. When the nail has regenerated and grown back normally, you can correct the corners.

Nail polish and good shoes

At the end you can "dust off" the nails with a polishing file. Such a file does not rub off the nail, but only removes the horn dust that is left over from the “grinding”.

As a final touch, you can apply a nail polish. The nail now not only shines, but the varnish also provides nutrients. Lacquer also fills grooves and small injuries and smoothes the surface.

Repeat the procedure regularly, preferably every ten days.

Special shoes with an ideal fit, air cushions in the soles and a lining that cushions pressure are suitable to prevent thickened toes that form in response to pressure.

Also make sure you have dry feet, socks and shoes. If necessary, use foot powder, as is mandatory in the British Army, for example. Not only athlete's foot, but also other infections of the toes develop particularly quickly when the feet are damp and the pores are therefore permeable.

Regular controll

Toenails don't thicken overnight. You can therefore prevent pathological thickening by regularly checking your nails. If it is a fungus, the first thing you will see is how the nails lose their shine and change color.

The nails deform at the edges first, and only later does the whole nail thicken and become brittle.

If you injure a nail, take immediate care of it before the injury turns into a curled or ingrown problem.

Also, make sure you have comfortable shoes. Footwear that leads to thickening of the nails is already a long time ago.

Remove nails?

In the past, doctors mostly used the "brute method". They cut out the thickened nail so that a new, healthy one could form. Today medical professionals are trying to save the nail more often.

In the case of slight thickening, it is often possible to bring the nail back into shape by filing and cutting.

You and the doctor should think twice about removing the nail. Pulling a nail is painful when the effects of the anesthetic wear off. You usually have to spare the foot in question for several weeks. The wound also becomes infected easily and there is no guarantee that the new nail will develop healthily.

Age is a risk

Old people often complain of thick toenails. It is a typical aging disease that arises from a generally poorer blood circulation, which is one of the classic changes in an aging body.

The tips on foot care therefore apply to the elderly to a particularly high degree. Clean your feet, change your socks every day, and disinfect your feet when you go to the pool or sauna.

If the toenails thicken even slightly, see a professional foot care professional. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text complies with the requirements of specialist medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
  • Fritz Bittig: Picture Atlas Podology: Findings, Treatment, Prophylaxis, Karl F. Haug, 2017
  • Severin Läuchli; C. Riess: Ingrown toenails: nail extraction and wedge excision are “out”, ars medici, 2014
  • Eckart Haneke: "Controversies in the Treatment of Ingrown Nails", in: Dermatalogy Research and Practice, 2012, NCBI
  • Georg Hohmann: feet and legs: their diseases and their treatment, Springer, 1951

Important NOTE:
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.