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Leaflet: How to look after your nails

Podiatry Services

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Last updated: April 2020
Next review: April 2022

Cutting and filing nails.

Always cut your nails following the shape of the end of your toe.

Do not cut your nails too short or into the corners as you may leave a spike of nail which can cause an ingrowing toe nail.

Don’t be tempted to dig down the sides of your nails as this may cause skin damage and risk of infection.

Cut small pieces of nail at a time so that the nail does not crack or split.

If you cannot use nail clippers, try filing them instead. You will need to file your toenails as least once a week. File the toenails away from you as this will shorten and make the nail thinner.

If you are caring for someone else’s nails, then make sure that you are sitting comfortably and not stooping over or putting undue stress on your back.

Ingrowing nails

Nails should never be cut down the sides as this can often lead to hidden nail spikes. As the nail grows up these spikes grow onto the skin and the side of the nail becomes swollen and painful. The toe may also become infected.

Should this occur it is important that you keep the area clean by bathing the toe in warm (not hot) salty water for 5 mins, dry with a clean towel or swab and cover the area with a sterile dressing.

Seek help from a Health care professional Council (HCPC) Registered Chiropodist/ Podiatrist as soon as possible. Sometimes ingrown toenails require a simple routine procedure to remove the spike of nail.

Involuted nails

Involuted nails are excessively curved so that the edges of the nail press into the flesh of the toe. These can be painful and may cause the toe to become inflamed. Hard skin and corns may also develop down the side of the nail.

Do not cut down the sides to relieve the pain as this could cause further problems. Advice should be sought from a registered HCPC.

Thickened nails

When a nail is damaged it can become thicker. Damage may occur by trauma, such as dropping a heavy object on the nail, wearing shoes that are too tight, a sporting activity which may involve direct contact, such as football.

A good circulation is needed to keep the nails healthy. As you get older your circulation can deteriorate and your nails may become thickened. A fungal infection of the nail may also cause the nail to become thickened.

If you have thickened toenails, a good quality file is essential. Your podiatrist will be able to advise you on which sort of file would be suitable.

Fungal Nail Infections

This condition is usually painless, although if the nail is misshapen there may be some discomfort. It causes the nail to thicken, become brittle and change colour. The infection is often caused by the same fungus that causes athletes foot.

It may be caught by coming into contact with infected materials, such as another person’s shoes or towels, or by wearing the same pair of shoes or socks for long periods of time. Treatments for this condition are available from your GP or local pharmacist.

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