Why You Get Ingrown Toenails (and how to prevent them)

If you’ve ever had an ingrown toenail, you know how frustrating and painful it can be. Walking, standing, or merely wearing a shoe can be excruciating. Thankfully, however, you can prevent an ingrown toenail by taking some simple precautions.

Here are some of the reasons why ingrown toenails occur, and some of the things you can do to keep from having to deal with the issue.

Symptoms of an Ingrown Nail

The first thing you will usually notice if you have an ingrown nail is the pain in the affected area when you touch your toe.

Now, your toe may also be swollen and the skin may seem to be harder than normal. As the problem progresses, you’ll probably feel more pain and you might even develop an infection in the skin. While any one of your toenails can become ingrown, the big toe is most commonly affected.1

Why an Ingrown Toenail Develops

Ingrown Toenail | DermalMedixIf you’re dealing with an ingrown toenail, you’re probably wondering how they develop in the first place. There are a lot of different reasons. For example, an ingrown nail may occur after you’ve suffered some sort of injury, such as stubbing one of your toes. Toenails can also become ingrown if someone accidentally steps on your foot.2

The most common causes of an ingrown toenail, however, involve grooming and footwear habits.

If you don’t cut your toenails straight across, or if you cut them too short, you may be at an increased risk. Your chances of developing an ingrown nail will also go up if you wear shoes that are too confining in the toe box.3

As it turns out, some people are simply born with toenails that are more curved than normal, increasing the likelihood that they’ll have to deal with ingrown toenails. If you have an infection on the skin around one of your toenails, you have suffered nerve damage to your leg or foot, or you have a condition that leads to poor blood circulation, you may be more susceptible to an ingrown nail.4

When to See a Doctor for Treatment

While an ingrown toenail can cause a great deal of pain, the good news is, it usually isn’t that serious – especially if you’re otherwise healthy. For some people, however, an ingrown nail can be a major problem.

If, for instance, you have a medical condition associated with high blood sugar levels, you have to be very vigilant when it comes to an ingrown toenail. The reason is you could develop a potentially severe infection. If you don’t get the treatment you need, the infection could get to the bone and cause major complications.5

An ingrown nail can also cause problems if you have nerve damage in your feet. A seemingly minor problem can turn into something potentially devastating, requiring extensive treatment, including surgery.6

While everyone should pay attention to their foot health, this is especially the case if you have certain types of medical conditions. Keep a close eye on your feet, and get to the doctor if you develop any problems.


Again, there are many ways you can prevent an ingrown nail, or help keep one from coming back.

  • Ingrown Toenail | DermalMedixWhen you trim your toenails, always cut them straight across.
  • Don’t cut your toenails too short.
  • Wear shoes that fit properly; make sure they don’t pinch.
  • Wear protective shoes if you work at a job that puts you at risk for foot injury.7

In addition, if you have a disease characterized by high blood sugar, or if you have numbness in your extremities, you should never cut your toenails on your own. Always stay on the safe side and go to a doctor instead.

Wrapping it Up

The pain of an ingrown toenail can be excruciating. While you probably won’t have to deal with severe complications from an ingrown toenail, taking some simple precautions can help to reduce your risk. If you have any reason to think your ingrown toenail is becoming infected, see your doctor immediately.

Learn More:
What Is Athlete’s Foot? (and how to keep your feet healthy)
How to Make Sure You Have a Safe Pedicure
Help! My Toes Are Blue! (3 Ways to Get Rid of It)