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Where Do Ingrown Toenails Come From?

Where Do Ingrown Toenails Come From?

One day your foot was fine, and the next, you had a tender spot where your toenail meets your skin. Today, it’s a mere annoyance, but if you ignore it, it can progress into a painful foot problem. What you have is an ingrown toenail, and how you got it depends on several factors.

Our board-certified podiatrists at Dan Preece, DPM & Darren Groberg, DPM can help you figure out what caused your ingrown toenail and how to get rid of it. As a branch of the Utah Musculoskeletal Specialists in Salt Lake City, we provide comprehensive care and offer treatments for all types of foot and ankle problems, including ingrown toenails. Here’s what you need to know.

How to spot an ingrown toenail

The name is a dead giveaway — an ingrown toenail occurs when your toenail grows inward and digs under your skin. The first sign of an ingrown toenail is redness at the edge of your toenail where it meets your skin. It may feel tender and hard.

As it gets worse, your toe may become swollen and infected. It may feel hot to the touch, and you might notice pus oozing from the site. 

Where do ingrown toenails come from?

There are several potential causes of ingrown toenails, which is why they’re so common — ingrown toenails account for about 20% of all foot-related doctor visits. The top culprits behind ingrown toenails are:

Poor toenail-cutting technique

The best way to trim your toenails is straight across the top edge and not too short. You can file the corners slightly, so they aren’t too pointed, but if you trim or file them to a round corner, they can easily grow underneath your skin.

Toenail trauma

Stubbing your toe or dropping a heavy object on it can damage the toenail and the toenail bed, which can lead to an abnormal growth pattern that angles your toenail downward into your flesh.

Poor choice in footwear

Your feet spend much of the day in your shoes, and during that time, your toenails grow a little every day. Over time, the shoes you wear begin to influence the direction your toenails grow. So, if your shoes are too narrow or too small, your toenails have nowhere to go but into your skin. Spending a lot of time in high-heeled shoes can also force your toenails to grow where they shouldn’t.

Torn toenails

A torn, ripped, or split toenail that removes the tip of the nail below the top of your nail bed creates a perfect environment for an ingrown toenail once it begins to grow again. If this happens, come see us so we can evaluate the growth pattern and prevent the nail from growing in the wrong direction.


Genes play a role in the development of ingrown toenails, too. If you were born with toenails that are larger than your toes can accommodate, you may be more prone to ingrown toenails than other people. 

How to treat ingrown toenails

At the first signs of an ingrown toenail, take steps to stop the progression. Soak your foot in a warm bath with Epsom salts to soften the skin. 

Try to lift the surrounding skin gently with a cotton swab or dental floss, and leave a small piece in place to guide the growth outward. Make sure to change the pad daily.

Use an antibiotic cream to prevent infection from setting in, and wear roomy shoes or sandals to give your toes plenty of breathing room.

If your ingrown toenail is infected, we prescribe antibiotics and may recommend a minor surgical procedure to remove part of the toenail and stop the pain and progression.

Dr. Preece and Dr. Groberg expertly diagnose and treat ingrown toenails, which tend to occur most frequently in our patients with diabetes, poor blood circulation, and severe nerve damage. If you suspect an ingrown toenail, don’t ignore it, especially if you have one of these other health conditions, too. 

Schedule an appointment by calling or using our online booking tool today. 

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