Toenails are our body’s shield that protects the skin below it and the tissue around it. Like any defence system, toenails can withstand repeated trauma, but they’re not entirely impermeable. Toenails are susceptible to loosening, breaking, splintering, abnormal growth, and cracking. In this article, we’ll discuss the latter, specifically how to treat a cracked toenail.
How to spot a cracked toenail
A cracked toenail occurs when there is a breakage in the nail. This can occur either at the base, middle, or tip of the toenail. Thinner toenails are more vulnerable to cracking. You may also notice flaking, which indicates a brittle, weakening surface.
How to treat a cracked toenail
Now that you’ve spotted a cracked toenail, you can begin treating it so it can return to full health and strength. The steps you’ll find below are comprehensive – the steps you ultimately follow to treat a cracked toenail will depend on the severity and the underlying cause. You may be able to skip steps, jump ahead, or have to return to certain treatment methods for a full recovery.
Step 1: Stop to assess the damage
First, you should assess the damage to the nail. This will help influence the treatment needed. There could be varying degrees of damage to your toenail including but not limited to:
- A crack extending from the tip of the nail to the nail bed
- Complete or partial detachment of the toenail from the toe
- Toenail breakage
- Toenail discolouration
- Pain, tenderness or sensitivity around the affected area
- Fungal infection (causing a cracked toenail)
Step 2: Clean the affected area to prevent infection
If your nail bed is partially exposed, clean the nail and its surroundings with soap and water and dry properly. If your nail is still intact but with a small crack, look for any debris or dirt that may have lodged itself in the crevasses.
Step 3: Remove any artificial nail if it begins to separate from the nail bed
Leaving an artificial nail on the nail bed can lead to further tears. It can also get caught or snagged on your sock or shoe and make things worse.
Step 4: Trim and/or file your toenail
File and/or trim your toenail (make sure you’re using the best of the best toenail clippers too!) to ensure there are no jagged edges that could get caught on something. This prevents any additional damage to the area.
If there is breakage near the tip of the nail, trim off the detached portion. This should reduce the chance of the nail catching and tearing.
Step 5: Applying dressing to the affected area
Apply a dressing, such as a bandage, toe sleeve, or toe cap, on the toenail to protect the area. This also provides a layer of padding between the toenail and your footwear. Replace the bandage or sleeve if it gets wet and monitor the toenail every few days when swapping a new wrap.
Step 6: Continue (or start) with general foot care
Proper foot care, including washing regularly, trimming toenails, keeping your feet and toes moisturized, and wearing proper footwear, will help encourage toenail growth and limit additional damage to the cracked toenail.
Step 7: Consult a chiropodist
When in doubt, consult a professional. A chiropodist can help you treat a cracked toenail, especially if the toenail is infected. For example, a chiropodist can drain the infection site. Further, if there are complications and no other nailcare treatments work, an expert can perform a procedure where the nail is removed entirely.
Step 8: Let the toenail grow out naturally
If the above isn’t relevant, and the cracked toenail is not severe, you can let nature run its course. Simply continue to trim your toenail until the cracked portion grows out. In fact, this is the ideal treatment.
That said, toenail growth can be slow so be patient; toenails can take 12-18 months (1.5 years) to fully grow (granted there are no other underlying issues to the toenail other than trauma), although less time may be required if you don’t require full re-growth. If the cracked toenail is closer to the edge, then it may just take months, if not weeks, to gradually grow out to the point where you can begin nail trimming. There are ways to expedite the process like taking a biotin supplement. Read our full article on how to get your toenails to grow faster.
Step 9: Addressing and treating any foot deformities or biomechanical abnormalities
Cracked toenails are often secondary to other issues like trauma. If you have a biomechanical issue that causes excessive pressure, friction or banging on the affected toe, it can slow the healing process and the issue can reoccur. By investing in proper footwear and addressing any biomechanical abnormalities that may cause trauma to the toenail, you’ll ensure you are doing your best to prevent any future damage to your toenails.
Step 10: Use nail hardeners
Supplement nail regrowth with a nail hardener. Nail softness makes nails more prone to breaking, which increases the need for nail regrowth.