Growing up, our mothers had a knack for jumping onto a personal cause as a sign of the end of days. Toenail trimming seems to be a universally "doom and gloom" topic in many households – the moms recounting the many ills that will befall us if we do not trim our toenails often enough, if we trim them too much, or if we trim them improperly.
An ingrown toenail occurs when the sides or corners of the nail embed themselves into the surrounding skin. This causes them to become red, inflamed, and painful when there is pressure applied. The toenail can become infected if left untreated. Treating ingrown toenails is best handled by your podiatrist. The pain relief is dramatic and immediate!
I have assembled the four most common motherly warnings. No offense to mom, but they're not as bad as they seem. Let's see what mom has to say.
1. "If you do not cut your nails, you'll get ingrown toenails." Sorry mom, but long toenails usually do not cause them to become ingrown. Most ingrown nails occur when the nail plate is too wide for the nail bed, so it is not the length, but the width that we're most concerned with. Inflammation is caused by the pressure of tight shoes. I will say that some people's toenails do grow with a downward curve. In those cases, growing nails long can cause them to be embedded into the end of the toe.
2. "If you do not cut your nails correctly, you'll get ingrown toenails." We try to blame nail cutting for causing ingrown toenails. The poor pedicurists who get thrown under the bus! It can be true, however, that cutting nails improperly can exacerbate ingrown nails. Conventional wisdom is to cut the nails straight across. When people slant the sides of the nails back, they can help an ingrown nail form. It is not one size fits all, though. If someone's nail is especially curved, not rounding the corners of the nail can cause them to dig into the toe and cause pain. Chalk one up for mom!
3. "Cutting a 'V' into the nail will prevent ingrown toenails." This is my favorite of mom-isms when it comes to ingrown toenails. I continue to be amazed that kids today are still told this. The theory is that the groove in the nail will let the center compress and relieve the pressure on the toe. Think in terms of a pressure grate on a bridge or road. The grate protects the pavement from cracking when the temperature changes, causing expansion and contraction. It just does not translate to a toenail, however.
4. "Picking your toenails can cause ingrown toenails." Well mom has this one right! When it comes time for toenail trimming, a clipper is the way to go. It is easier just to tear at the nails – we've all done it at one time or another – but the toenail will often go too low on the sides which can cause trauma resulting in an ingrown toenail. Keep those clippers handy and do not pick.
So, based on my findings, mom is batting .500 … not so shabby! When all else fails, all you need is some simple common sense. And, of course, if you feel any pain or see any redness, bleeding, or pus, be sure to visit your podiatrist right away.