Black Toenails: Under-Nail Bruises
Maybe you’re a regular runner who keeps bumping your toes on the ends of your shoes, or maybe you just dropped a box of heavy books on your foot. Then when you took off your socks, you noticed the change—your nails had turned black! Typically, changing colors on the body signals some sort of damage. Your skin turns black and blue when you have a bruise. Cuts get redder when they develop an infection. So what happens when your toenails darken? Sometimes it’s painful; other times, you may barely even notice the change. Like many other toe injuries, black toenails can have multiple causes and various solutions to deal with the discomfort.
Black toenails are just what they sound like—the darkening of one or more nails. Occasionally they are caused by a fungal infection or a dangerous melanoma, but that’s rare. Typically they are the result of trauma to the toes. Stubbing your foot sharply, repeatedly jamming your toes against the front of your shoes, and dropping a heavy object on your foot are all common ways you can develop this problem. The damage causes the nail bed to bleed, staining and darkening the underside of the nail. If blood pools there, it can exert pressure on the toe and be uncomfortable. Sometimes the damage is enough that the tissue separates from the nail bed. This makes it loose and vulnerable to tears, which can be painful.
Though generally not serious, sometimes black toenails can signal serious problems. The nail bed may have become severely lacerated from your injury, leading to extra bleeding. You could even have fractured or exposed bone. All of this leaves your body open to infections that require more intense treatment to resolve—or could even result in amputation, in extreme cases.
Relieving the Pressure
If your black toenails are painful, or you don’t remember an injury that could have resulted in the condition, you need to have them examined. One of our doctors will evaluate the affected toes for the specific cause of your discomfort. They may request diagnostic images to check for malignant growths or hidden damage to your foot. Once they have a clearer picture of your condition, they can help you eliminate the pain and return to your activities.
In most cases, discolored nails only need a little monitoring to prevent further injury or infection. If pooling blood is uncomfortable, you may need to have the nail punctured and drained to relieve the pressure. Over time, new, healthy tissue will grow in and push out the damaged, darkened parts. If the original injury seems extensive, or there appears to be another problem with the toe, the experts may choose to remove your nail to better see and treat the problem.
If your toenails have changed color and become uncomfortable, don’t push through the pain and risk ignoring hidden damage. Eliminating the pain now and ensuring the problem doesn’t worsen is better than trying to resolve a more complicated condition later. Contact the experts at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona for an appointment or more information. To reach us, visit the online contact page, call either of our two offices, or send us a quick fax: for the Chandler location, call (480) 963-9000 or fax (480) 963-0375; for the Gilbert office, call (480) 981-1800 or fax (480) 981-0229.