First, let's look at a bit of nail anatomy!
We know...snore, snore, but stay with us!
It's good to have a little underlying knowledge.
The nail cells grow from an area known as the Nail Matrix.
The Matrix lies under the skin of your toes and fingers, just beyond the cuticle end of the nail.
There's the white coloured 'half-moon' shape known a The Lunula.
Then there's the nail plate itself. It has 3 layers and in a healthy nail is pink coloured as it is attached to the skin beneath (the nail bed).
Finally, there is the nail that, if you are lucky, grows beyond the nail plate at the end of your nail, known as The Free Edge.
The first reason your toenail may be thick is:
This could be one big episode of trauma, like dropping something heavy on the nail or
stubbing your toe badly, or it can be from many episodes of smaller trauma (we call it micro-trauma) maybe from playing sports, hill walking, (or just walking the hills of New Mills) mainly downhill as this pushing toes into the ends of the shoes.
It may be poorly fitting shoes for whatever reason.
Both cause damage to the nail matrix causing the new nail cells to grow unevenly, and so causing the nail to also be uneven and thick.
The most common nails to be affected are the big toenails, followed by the little toenails, as they are both on the edges of the feet and so more likely to be damaged. Usually, only one or two toenails are affected depending on the cause of the damage.
There are also certain medical conditions
These include chronic skin conditions, like Psoriasis and Eczema that can affect the way a nail grows.
A lot of things are put down to our age and this can be one of them.
One of the reasons is that, with advancing age, sometimes circulation at the extremities can be poor.
Blood brings all the goodies with it, like oxygen and nutrients that keep our skin and nails looking good.
With a reduction in blood supply and therefore a reduction in oxygen, nails and skin can suffer.
Often nails will become thicker and skin thinner.
As with systemic disease, if age if the cause of your thickened toenails it is likely that all are affected, rather than just one or two, like with trauma.
Fungal Nail Infections
As with trauma, the most common nails to be affected with fungus are the big one and/or the little one because they are more susceptible to damage.
If a nail is damaged in some way the fungus, which usually lives happily with us on our skin, takes the opportunity to get underneath the nail plate and infects the nail bed beneath.
As the fungus becomes established under there, part of that process causes the nail to become thick. It is also likely to be crumbly with a yellow/brown colour.
How can we help?
No matter what the cause, thick toenails can be a problem.
If the nail or nails have started to thicken up and you haven't been sure what to do about it, or haven't been able to cut the nail, the eventual length and thickness can become painful, especially in shoes.
Thick toenails are not necessarily the nicest to look at either, and even less so if they also have a fungal infection.
The aim for you, and for us, is to get your nails back to as near normal thickness as we can and in doing so improving their appearance and reducing any associated pain.
For this, we use a small hand-held electric file or burr to thin the nail.
Don't worry, it's not painful.
We also can take a look at your shoes.
Although the nail is permanently damaged and will need regular treatment to keep it pain-free and looking its best, making sure your shoes are appropriate to allow room for these toenails is important for your comfort too.
If we suspect the thickened nail has a fungal infection then we can test for that and work together to find the appropriate treatment option.
Thank you for taking time out to read our blog.
We like to hear what you thought, and if you found it useful, so please message us and let us know.
Equally, if you'd like to book an appointment with us please get in touch.
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Fran & Helen x
Stepwise Podiatry - Well-being for you and your feet when you Step Into Our World.