Toenail trials and tribulations just come with the territory when you're a dancer. They can range from slightly annoying to super-painful, and it's crucial to address them immediately. Dance Spirit turned to Dr. Bryan Hersh, DPM, for a breakdown of the most common toenail woes and the most effective ways to treat them.
"Bruising under the toenail is referred to as a 'subungual hematoma,' or a collection of blood," says Hersh. "It can cause the nail to lift up or fall off. It can be quite painful, and can also become infected."
"Bruised nails are caused by trauma or repetitive micro-trauma, such as constant pressure from pointe shoes," Hersh says.
If there isn't a lot of discoloration under the nail and you aren't experiencing any pain or active bleeding, Hersh suggests leaving it alone and monitoring it. "The bruise will grow out with the nail," he says. If the nail is damaged, clean the area with soap and water, carefully squeeze out any blood that's pooled near the surface, and apply a topical antibiotic cream, followed by a Band-Aid. In more severe cases, make an appointment with your podiatrist.
"Ingrown toenails (or 'onychocryptosis') occur when the edge of the nail grows into the adjacent skin," Hersh says.
"They can cause inflammation, redness, swelling, and, potentially, infection."
Improperly cut nails and toes jammed into pointe shoes for hours on end are the main culprits.
Make sure your shoes (both soft and pointe) fit properly. Experiment with gel pads, lambswool, or paper towels to find the perfect padding. And always make sure you're cutting your nails correctly—"straight across or following the contour of your toe shape," Hersh advises.
If you're battling an ingrown nail, wash the area with soap and water, and apply an antibiotic cream, followed by a Band-Aid. "Soaking your feet in warm water with Epsom salt can also relieve some of the inflammation," Hersh says. If the pain persists, or the nail becomes infected, head straight to your podiatrist.
"Fungal infections are called 'onychomycosis,' and they cause the nail to become thick, brittle, discolored, and potentially itchy or painful," Hersh says. "They're also prone to spreading to other toenails, or the surrounding skin (also known as 'athlete's foot')."
According to Hersh, all fungus needs to thrive is "a small opening between the nail and the skin, and a moist, dark, humid environment"—i.e., your dance shoes.
Keep your feet dry, remove sweaty socks or tights after dancing, rotate and air out your shoes, and clean between your toes. Hersh recommends over-the-counter medications from your local drugstore, but act quickly—untreated toenail fungus can lead to permanent damage of the nail and nailbed.
A version of this story appeared in the February 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Nailed It."