No matter whether you’re just starting a new running program or have been hitting the trails for a long time, it’s possible you will take off your socks and shoes after a long run and notice a dark spot on one of your toenails. This may seem to be a concern, but once you learn a thing or two about black toenails, you might not be as worried.
When discovered on a runner’s foot, the most likely cause of a darkened nail is repeated trauma as the toe hits the front of the shoe during a long run. In these instances, the darkened coloration is caused by either subungual hematoma—which is blood that has pooled between the nail and nailbed—or a bruised nailbed.
If this is the case, you may also experience tenderness and/or swelling as additional symptoms.
Cases of black toenails are more commonly experienced by runners who run in shoes that are too tight (which means the toes are more likely to hit the front of the shoes). As such, you can lower your risk of developing a black toenail by simply choosing models that fit your feet properly.
Remember, running shoes should fit snugly, but still have room in the toe box area (front) so that toes can wiggle freely and not feel squished together.
Whereas running is a primary cause of this condition, not all cases are experienced by runners. In some cases, toenails are darker as the result of a fungal nail infection. At other times, a single traumatic incident (stubbing a toe really hard or dropping something heavy on a foot) is responsible.
While the vast majority of cases are benign (harmless), there are times when black toenails are an indication of malignant melanoma (skin cancer). Fortunately, this tends to be quite rare. That said, however, melanoma can be very dangerous and it is best to have the condition evaluated at our office at the earliest opportunity. The sooner treatment can begin, the better the chance it will be effective in resolving the situation.
Your specific case—including the root cause and its severity—will determine our treatment plan. If blood has pooled between a toenail and its nailbed, the pressure can cause pain and discomfort. We can help by draining the blood to relieve the pressure.
If you have any questions, or need to schedule an appointment to have a black toenail evaluated and treated, contact Southern Oregon Foot & Ankle by calling (541) 776-3338.