All About Our Remarkable Toenails

Our toenails actually have lots of essential functions to help us walk and balance.

By Corwyn B. Bergsma, DPM

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Your toenails are practically the lowest – and the lowliest – parts of your body. Every couple of weeks we pay them some attention when we give them a trim, and sometimes we throw on a coat of nail polish, but for the most part, they are ignored. But our toenails actually have lots of essential functions to help us walk and balance.

Our Toenails are Similar to Certain Mammal Claws

Toenails are composed of keratin, which is a protein, and quite similar to animal claws. Remember this the next time your little kitten sinks her claws into your lap.

Where the nail starts is called the nail matrix, and most of it is hidden under your skin. Here the nail cells multiply and harden into nail material. Your cuticle is the skin where the toe meets the nail. Since the cuticle protects the toenail from infection, avoid cutting it in a pedicure. The actual nail itself is called the nail plate. The soft tissue under the nail, which anchors the nail plate, is called the nail bed.

Toenails Perform Important Jobs

In addition to looking pretty when polished or buffed, our toenails protect the toes from injury. And even though the nails themselves have no nerve endings, they help enhance the sensitivity of the toe tips and their movement.

Toenails grow more slowly than fingernails, but the growth rate is quicker in higher temperatures. In colder weather, when they are tucked away in socks and shoes, they grow more slowly due to the absence of light and air.

Watch For Common Toenail Problems

Ingrown toenails occur when the toenail presses into the skin on the sides of the toe. This injury often becomes infected. An ingrown toenail may be caused by trimming the nails in a curve, rather than straight across. Wearing tight or narrow shoes, or excessive wearing of high heels, can make the problem worse. Watch for reddening, warmth, swelling, and pain around the nail.

Fungal nail is contagious, and the infection can be picked up in public areas such as pools, locker rooms, gyms, and spas. Toenail fungus will cause the nail to yellow, become crumbly or ragged, thicken, and sometimes emit an unpleasant odor.

For these and other toenail problems, a visit to one of our five offices is in order for a professional evaluation and diagnosis and effective treatment. Avoid over–the–counter products for any toenail, foot, or ankle problem – let us help!