• Pod Co Podiatry

Ingrown Toenails - Instructions on the proper way to cut your toenails

Let’s cut straight to it – how, exactly, is the proper way to cut your toenails? 

One of the most widely held opinions is to cut your nails straight across. Where this idea sprung from and how it became the common view isn’t clear.  It certainly isn’t the way podiatrists are taught!

The only reason behind this theory seems to be that by cutting your nails with rounded corners, you would give yourself an ingrown toenail. This is simply untrue. You can cause ingrown toenails by cutting your nails straight across as well.  

The confusion seems to lie in what the definition of an ingrown toenail is.  Most people will call any pain or infection at the side of the nail an ingrown toenail when most of the time, it’s simply an infection caused by trauma to the skin – often due to picking or pulling the nail or roughly poking dirty instruments down the side of the nail.

So what is it?

An ingrown toenail happens when the nail isn’t cut completely, so that a small (or large in some cases) spike is left at the side.  As the nail grows, this sharp, jagged corner of the nail grows along with it and slowly pierces the skin at the corner of the toe.   Generally the area will become infected due to the environment of shod feet.  The skin around the nail then becomes red and very, very sore.  If left without treatment, the infection becomes worse and can lead to permanent deformation of the nail.

How do we avoid it?

  • Cut your nails using sharp, clean instruments 

  • Cut the nail following the natural curve, slightly rounding the corners

  • Do not pick them 

  • Using a cotton bud with Tea Tree oil or antiseptic to wipe the sides and corners of the nail after cutting can help reduce the chances of infection

  • Good foot hygiene is essential to keep the area as free from dirt and bacteria as possible

  • Change shoes and socks regularly 

  • Wear shoes with a good sized toe-box to prevent excessive pressure on the nails

Some nails have a certain shape that pre-disposes them to infection and pain in the corners and also makes them difficult to cut.  If you have or develop such a nail, having a podiatrist care for it regularly will help. 

Is there a permanent solution?

If the nail continues to cause problems, a simple procedure can be done to permanently remove the section of the nail that is misshapen which will resolve the issue.

This procedure is called a Partial Nail Avulsion (PNA), done by your podiatrist under a local anaesthetic.  It is a non-invasive procedure completed without causing trauma to the skin. This means that there is only minimal discomfort once the anaesthetic wears off and it heals well, providing there are no complications post-operatively. It is much like getting a filling at the dentist - without the drilling!

Often when a nail has been infected a number of times, the tissue becomes delicate and prone to flare up and a PNA is the best solution.

If you have any problems or queries regarding the cutting of your nails, see a podiatrist for advice and treatment. Your feet will thank you for it!