What Is A Cracked Toenail?
Our toes face trauma every day. As a result, our toenails can crack, split, or break from time to time. There are many things that can cause this, from aging to fungal infection to trauma. Sometimes cracked toenails are merely aesthetic concerns and heal quickly and naturally on their own; however, if the crack is severe, the toenail may split down the middle of the nailbed or even detach from the nailbed. Cracked toenails can also be quite painful and leave toenails vulnerable to infection.
It is best to seek medical attention if your cracked toenail is causing you pain and discomfort, affecting your movement, or doesn’t appear to be healing properly. You may also want to see a foot specialist if you are unsure as to the underlying cause of your cracked toenail, or if it’s a recurring issue. The chiropodists at our clinic can examine your cracked toenail, determine any underlying causes requiring treatment (i.e.: an undiagnosed fungal infection) and make sure that it heals properly and doesn’t get infected.
If you have diabetes, it is recommended that you see a foot specialist immediately should you develop a cracked, split or broken toenail.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Cracked Toenail?
Signs or symptoms of a cracked or broken toenail requiring the attention and care of a foot specialist are:
- A crack extending all the way to the nail bed.
- Complete or partial detachment of the toenail from the nail bed.
- Toenail breakage
- Toenail discolouration: The exact colour of the discolouration depends on the underlying cause of the cracked toenail. If it is due to fungal infection, your cracked toenail may be white, flaky or yellow-brownish. If it is due to trauma, it may be red, purple or black.
- Pain, tenderness or sensitivity around the affected area
You should seek medical attention if your toenail is bleeding, taking too long to heal, getting worse, or if you suspect your toenail is infected. Signs of infection are:
- Fluid or pus from the site of the cracked toenail
- If the affected area is hot to touch
What Causes Cracked Toenails?
Cracked toenails are most frequently caused or contributed by:
- Trauma, such as stubbing or dropping something on your toe
- Ill-fitting footwear that causes the toenail to repeatedly hit the inside of your shoe
- Sports that impact the toes, such as ballet and tennis
- Fungal infection: Toenail fungus can cause the toenail to become thick, discoloured, brittle and fragile. As the fungal infection grows, it can crack the nail or even lift it off the nail bed.
- Aging: The thickness of our toenails change as we age, becoming more brittle and fragile, which makes them prone to cracking. This occurs more with women than men.
Cracked toenails can also be caused or contributed to by:
- Nutritional deficiencies: Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional contributor to cracked toenails. Vitamin B, biotin and protein deficiencies may also lead to cracked toenails.
- Thyroid disorder: The thyroid is responsible for our metabolism and growing healthy hair, skin and nails. If the thyroid does not function properly, these processes can be affected, which can make our toenails more fragile and prone to breakage and cracking.
- Psoriasis affecting the toenails: Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that mostly affects the skin; however it can also affect the toenails and make them more fragile.
- Foot deformities such as hammertoes or clawed toes: These conditions place excessive trauma and pressure on the toes when we move.
How Do I Treat A Cracked Toenail?
The specific course of treatment for a cracked toenail depends on its underlying cause.
The ideal treatment for a cracked toenail is to let it grow out naturally. If the toenail is broken due to trauma and there are no other underlying issues, the toenail will typically heal itself and begin the regrowth process within about 6 to 8 weeks (the entire regrowth process can take 3 to 18 months for toenails). While there is little that can be done to speed this process up, there are remedies a foot specialist can provide to prevent pain or further aggravation of the toenail during the regrowth process. This includes:
- Applying dressing to the affected area to prevent infection.
- Ensuring the site is sufficiently padded and not being aggravated by friction between the toenail and footwear. This includes wearing proper footwear.
- General foot care for the toenails and skin of the feet: This keeps our toenails and skin strong, supple and healthy, which helps healing and makes them less prone to further injury and/or aggravation.
- If the toenail is infected, antibiotics may be prescribed. A chiropodist may also drain the infection site.
- If there are complications affecting the regrowth (i.e.: if the toenail is ingrown or deeply infected) and other treatments do not work, a partial or total nail avulsion (removal of the nail) may be indicated.
A chiropodist will also explore any underlying causes behind the cracked toenail. This can involve the following additional treatment:
- Addressing and treating any foot deformities or biomechanical abnormalities that may be contributing to the cracked toenails.
- If the cracked toenail is the result of a fungal infection, anti-fungal treatment is required (see fungal toenail).
- If cracked toenails are a frequent occurrence and being caused by repetitive trauma due to ill-fitting footwear, a chiropodist will explore and make recommendations for proper footwear (see our Services page for the footwear services we provide).
- Regular foot and toenail care by a foot specialist to promote healthy skin and toenails (see medical pedicure). This involves proper trimming of the toenails and applying special topical ointments to promote strong resistant toenails. This is especially helpful if your toenails are becoming fragile or brittle due to aging, or if you have an underlying medical condition that makes your toenails prone to breakage.
It is recommended that diabetic patients seek medical attention for any cracked toenail, regardless of its severity; do not wait for the toenail to heal on its own (for more information, see our diabetic foot care services).
Why Do I Get Cracked Toenails?
The following can make you more vulnerable to cracked toenails:
- Wearing open-toed shoes in places where there are objects that can impact your toes (i.e.: a construction site, a rocky hiking trail)
- Sports or activities that involve high impact or repeated pressure on the toes, or risk of objects impacting the toes, such as ballet, soccer, tennis or long-distance running.
- Improper toenail maintenance and foot care: Letting your toenails grow too long can make them more prone to cracking from everyday activities. Also, the skin and nails on our feet become weaker and more injury-prone if they are not tended and cared for properly.
- Frequent exposure to water: Too much water can soften the nails and surrounding skin, which can make them more fragile and prone to injury. For example, swimmers are more susceptible to cracked toenails.
- Frequent cosmetic pedicures and nail polish remover: The acetone in nail polish remover and chemicals many of the products used at nail salons weaken nails. This is especially the case with gel nail polish and shellac, as the process requires you to soak your nails in nail polish remover for extended periods of time.
- Medical conditions that affect the nail growth process (i.e.: thyroid disorders, mineral deficiencies, psoriasis).
- Age: Our nails become more fragile and brittle as we get older. Women are especially susceptible to this.
- Fungal infections
- Foot deformities such as clawed toes or hammertoes
How Do I Prevent Cracked Toenails?
Here are various foot care solutions you can do to prevent cracked toenails:
- Moisturize toenails daily
- Avoid toenail polish, especially shellac
- Wear closed-toed shoes in hazardous areas
- Take mineral supplements for any deficiencies (or seek advice from a suitable healthcare professional as to how to treat such deficiencies)
- Wear proper-fitting footwear that properly supports your toes and reduces any repetitive trauma or “banging” of your toes.
- Make sure your feet and toes are dried after getting wet.
- Address any risk factors associated with fungal infections.
- Regular foot care treatment from a chiropodist, such as a medical pedicure, to ensure your toenails and the skin on your feet stays strong and healthy. This may be especially helpful if you have any of the risk factors associated with cracked toenails, or if you have diabetes. You can book your medical pedicure appointment here.
Our clinic store is open six days a week and offers a variety of nail care products and footwear solutions to help prevent cracked toenails and promote healthy feet.
Book an appointment for cracked toenail
You do not need a referral to become a patient at our foot clinic. Schedule an appointment by using the Appointment Request form below or contact the clinic at 416-769-FEET(3338).