Ingrown toenails occur when a nail grows into the soft flesh of the toe, leading to pain, inflamed skin, and swelling. This condition can significantly impact your daily life, limiting activities and causing discomfort with every step. So let’s take a closer look at the causes and symptoms of ingrowing toenails, along with risk factors, tips for prevention, and treatment options.

Recognising the Symptoms

Prompt treatment can prevent an ingrown toenail from worsening, so it is important to recognise the symptoms early. Look out for:

  • Persistent pain
  • Redness around the nail bed
  • Swelling
  • Infection (indicated by pus discharge)

Causes of Ingrowing Toenails

To better manage and prevent ingrown toenails, let’s explore some common causes of this condition.

Improper Toenail Cutting Techniques

One of the primary causes of ingrown toenails is incorrect toenail cutting:

  • Rounding the Corners Too Closely: Many people tend to round off their toenails for aesthetic reasons. However, this can encourage the sides of the nail to dig into the surrounding skin as they grow out.
  • Cutting Nails Too Short: Trimming your toenails too short increases the risk of the surrounding skin folding over the nail and causing it to grow into the tissue.

Wearing Tight or Ill-Fitting Shoes

Wearing poor-fitting shoes can exacerbate or even cause ingrown toenails:

  • Pressure on Toes and Nails: Tight shoes compress the toes together and place continuous pressure on the nails. Over time, this can change the direction of nail growth, pressing it into the flesh.
  • Ill-Fitting Shoes: Shoes that do not fit your foot shape or size, create areas of friction and pressure, which can contribute to ingrowing toenails.


Injury and trauma such as the following can lead to ingrowing toenails:

  • Sports Injuries can alter nail growth patterns.
  • Dropping something heavy onto your foot can damage the nail bed and affect how your toenail grows.
  • Stubbing your toe may seem minor, but it could actually cause enough damage to shift how your toenail grows.

If you sustain an injury to your toe, pay close attention as it heals. Noticing changes early on can help you take action before an ingrown toenail develops.

Risk Factors for Ingrowing Toenails

Certain factors make some people more vulnerable to the risk of developing ingrown toenails. Genetics is one factor, along with conditions such as:

  1. Diabetes and Blood Circulation Issues

Individuals with diabetes are at a heightened risk of ingrown toenails due to poor blood circulation in the extremities.

  1. Immune System Compromises and Nail Infections

A compromised immune system or existing nail infections can increase the likelihood of an ingrown toenail developing.

Potential Complications of Ingrown Toenails

Untreated ingrown toenails can lead to complications, some of which can be serious. If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can lead to infection. Symptoms may include redness, warmth, swelling, and discharge of pus. In some cases, the infection can spread to the surrounding skin, causing cellulitis, which requires swift medical attention. In severe cases, an untreated ingrown toenail can even lead to a bone infection known as osteomyelitis. This is also a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention.

Preventing Ingrowing Toenails

Ingrowing toenails are largely preventable with a few simple steps that you can incorporate into your daily routine.

Nail Care Tips

  • Trim nails straight across using a clean, sharp nail trimmer.
  • Avoid cutting nails too short
  • File nails if you cannot cut them well.
  • Don’t pick or pull your nails

Footwear Matters

The shoes you wear play a crucial role in preventing ingrown toenails:

  • Opt for roomy shoes: Shoes should provide ample space for your toes to move freely without excessive pressure on any side of the toe.
  • Check shoe fit regularly: Feet can change size and shape over time. Make sure your shoes fit correctly and aren’t too tight or too loose.
  • Select appropriate shoes for activities: Wear activity-specific shoes to protect your feet from injury.

Professional Treatment Options

Your podiatrist can conduct a thorough inspection of your toe. Depending on the severity of your condition, different management options are available:

  1. Conservative measures: e.g. soaking your foot in warm water several times a day and placing dental floss or cotton under the nail to help it grow above the skin edge.
  2. Minor Surgical Procedures: For more severe cases, nail surgery may be recommended.

Your feet are the foundations of your body, so it is important to keep them healthy and pain-free. So take a step in the right direction and give your feet the love they deserve. If you notice any signs of an ingrown toenail, don’t ignore them. Seek advice from a podiatrist and get the necessary treatment as soon as possible. In doing so, you can prevent further complications.

Skilled podiatrists and foot care practitioners at Cutting Edge Podiatry in Cambridge can give you a diagnosis. Your podiatrist will recommend treatment options along with costs, so you can make an informed choice on how to proceed. This may involve conservative treatment to manage the nail if surgery is not appropriate. Or, if the problem persists, or you just need it sorted out once and for all, nail surgery is a permanent solution to the problem.