Your Ingrown Toenail Game Plan
Sure, that plan might not always work out exactly the way you hoped or expected. Sometimes you’ll be faced with challenges you couldn’t have foreseen. Sometimes you’ll be forced to improvise.
But the better prepared you are for whatever contingencies you might face, the more likely you’ll be able to make a calm, quick, confident, and successful decision. That’s true in business and sports, and it’s also true with something like ingrown toenails.
Need convincing? Let’s plan out your ingrown toenails game plan.
Plan A: Avoidance
As with just about any injury or medical condition, the best outcome is to never get it in the first place. Although no prevention strategy is guaranteed to be effective, if you play your cards right, you give yourself the best chance of victory.
Unfortunately, there are some risk factors for ingrown toenails you have no control over. The biggest one of these is biology. Simply put, if your toenails are naturally more curved from side to side, you’re more likely to get ingrown toenails even if you take perfect care of your feet.
(If you find that your genetics are causing ingrown toenails over and over again, you might need to skip directly to Plan C. More on that in a bit.)
Fortunately, there are a lot of risk factors you can control. They include:
- Wearing the correct shoes. Shoes with no wiggle room in the toes pinch your toenails. Shoes that are too loose can slide around, causing your nails to slam into the front of the shoe repeatedly. Shoes that don’t provide adequate protection for your toes (e.g., flip flops at a construction site) increase your risk of accidental toenail injury. Conversely, wearing appropriate and well-fitting shoes for your activity reduces the risk of ingrown nails.
- Trimming toenails properly. Don’t cut your nails too short or leave them too long—either option can lead to injury (including ingrown nails). Also, cut straight across or with a gentle curve, rather than rounding the corners—this minimizes the chances that a nail border will snag on skin. If you like to get pedicures, make sure the salon staff aren’t cutting your nails too short or cutting your cuticles.
- Carefully observing your feet daily. Unfortunately, many foot problems become more severe than they have to be, simply because we aren’t in the habit of checking our feet regularly. We ignore them until they start to hurt. Don’t make that mistake! Early identification of an ingrown toenail can save you a lot of pain and hassle in the long run.
Plan B: Conservative Treatment
So let’s say you’ve been wearing good shoes, protecting your toes, and keeping an eye on your nails. Nonetheless, you’ve noticed some of the early warning signs of an ingrown toenail during your daily checks—namely redness, swelling, and tenderness, in addition to visible signs of the nail snagging the skin.
Now, you have a choice to make: attempt conservative treatments yourself (Plan B), or go straight to Plan C (professional treatment). There’s a mini-game plan for that as well:
- If symptoms are mild, you don’t have a history of ingrown toenails, there are no signs of infection, and you’re in good health, feel free to attempt Plan B if you wish.
- If symptoms are severe or you notice an infection, you have a history of ingrown toenails, you have diabetes, or you just want the fastest possible solution with a minimum amount of hassle, proceed directly to Plan C.
What does Plan B look like? Here are the basics.
- Give yourself a foot soak. Use warm water, 15 to 20 minutes or so, no more than three times per day. This should help with swelling, tenderness, and pain.
- Gently lift the nail. You can use fresh cotton or even dental floss as a “splint” of sorts under the ingrown nail. It must be fresh after each soak!
- Use antibiotic cream and bandage the toe. Self-explanatory. You want to minimize the risk of infection as much as possible.
- Give your toe some space. Spend as much time as you can either without wearing shoes (if you’re indoors) or wearing open-toed shoes or sandals.
It’s important to continue keeping a close eye on your toes during this time.
If you notice that pain and swelling are subsiding, and your ingrown toenail is going away, great! Keep doing what you’re doing.
If the ingrown toenail isn’t getting better after several days of treatment, is getting worse, or you’re just tired of managing at home, it’s time to flip to the next page of the playbook.
Plan C: Professional Treatment
Now, just because this is “Plan C” doesn’t mean it’s a Hail Mary desperation play. On the contrary: Plan C has a success rate that nears 100%.
It’s not as good as preventing the issue in the first place (no treatment is) and more invasive than Plan B, but on the flipside it just plain works, with a bare minimum amount of time or drama.
The whole process requires just one office visit. We’ll sit you down and inject a local anesthetic to numb the toe—the only part of the entire treatment that should produce even mild discomfort. Once your toe is numb, we carefully cut out and remove the part or parts of the toenail causing pain.
We may also recommend a partial matrixectomy, which means that we remove the associated part of the nail matrix responsible for growing the portion of the nail that’s becoming ingrown. This is a fantastic option for those with a history of ingrown toenails, because it drops the recurrence rate to almost zero.
After that, we’ll apply or prescribe any necessary antibiotics, bandage you up, and send you on your way.
The pain should already be mostly gone by the time the anesthetic wears off.
What about mobility? Well, most patients are back to their everyday activities immediately, and back to athletic participation within a few days, or a week or two at the absolute most.
So as you can see, the best thing about following the game plan for ingrown toenails is that, if you follow it faithfully, you’re almost guaranteed a victory. Maybe not as easy a victory as you’d prefer, sure. But as they say, a win is a win.
If you need some extra help defeating a bad case of ingrown toenails, give the Foot & Ankle Center of Oklahoma a call today at (405) 418-2676.
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