As having black spots beneath our toenails is far from the norm for most people, it’s not surprising that they can ring alarm bells and cause concern. Especially when we think back to favourites like Bob Marley who passed away at age 36 from a melanoma (which appears like a dark patch under the nail) that started beneath his toenail.Read more
So you’ve lost – or are well on the way to losing your toenail. It’s likely your big toe, though any toenail can come loose, and it likely pops to the forefront of your mind anytime you put on or take off socks and shoes because you’re worried that whatever is left may catch on the fabric and be painfully ripped off. Sound familiar?
As loose toenails bring with them a myriad of questions including:
- Will my nail grow back?
- Will my nail look normal?
- Why has it fallen off?
- Why does my nail look so white now?
… your My FootDr podiatry team has given you the low-down on losing toenails, why it happens, and what you can expect going forwards.
Why Toenails Fall Off
First thing’s first. The #1 cause for nails falling off or becoming loose is trauma. This may look like dropping something heavy on your toenail, stubbing your toe, your big dog jumping on your toe – you name it. If you’re a skier or snowboarder, you might have a loose nail regularly from tight (but necessary) boots on the slopes. Sometimes, it can be as simple as not trimming a long toenail and spending a whole day on your feet, with the nail constantly pressing firmly against the end of the shoe.
Regardless of the cause, the end result is the same: damage to the nail and likely bleeding beneath the nail too. If your nails are painted then you may not realise, but many people will develop a black/purple spot beneath their nail – or across the entire nail. This is dried blood beneath your toenail. Unless it’s at the very tip of the nail, it’s likely that you won’t be able to clean the area until your nail grows out. Thankfully, if you can’t reach the dried blood to clean it, neither can any bacteria or other nasties, so in most cases, you don’t need to worry about infection or anything sinister.
What the dried blood does do is fill the space between the nail itself and your nail bed, otherwise known as the pink skin beneath the nail. As the two layers are now separated, there is nothing holding the skin to the nail in that area any longer. Hence, it becomes much easier for toenails to fall off – and eventually, as the nails continue to grow, they most likely will as they’re no longer ‘attached’ like they used to be.
Other causes of nails becoming loose and detaching can include:
- Fungal nail infections
- Nail thickening (onychauxis)
- As a side effect of medical treatments like chemotherapy
My Nail Has Been Loose For A While. When Will It Fall Off?
This really depends on the cause for it becoming loose, how severe it is, and where the damage to the nail originally occurred. For example, if you had some bleeding right at the base of the nail, it may take weeks or months for it to fall off – if it does at all. But if you had severe damage and your entire nail is currently black, it may only take days or weeks.
Will The Nail Grow Back?
In the majority of people we see, yes they do – but here’s what you should know. Anytime we grow new nail, it is produced by nail-growing cells in the nail root, found deep beyond our cuticles. They’re made of a protein called keratin, and it’s a constant process of the new nail pushing out the older nail at the tips, and hence our nails growing longer.
As long as there’s nothing interfering with the nail-growing cells and this process, then you can and will grow new nail. But, if you dropped a bowling ball onto your foot or burnt your toes and have subsequently damaged the cells to the point that they can no longer grow new nail, then it may not grow back.
Interestingly, some people choose to have their toenails completely removed and the nail-growing cells destroyed using an acidic substance if they have longstanding problems with their nails and decide they no longer wish to put up with the hassle and discomfort. So yes, it’s very possible for your toes to no longer grow nail, though we don’t see this occurring naturally too often.
Will The New Nail Look Normal?
This is quite similar to the previous question. As long as the nail-growing cells are healthy and your body is producing everything it needs to grow the nail, then it’ll grow back and very likely have a normal appearance. If there’s a problem with the toe, the nail growing cells have been partially damaged, or something like a fungal nail infection or other problem is present, then the nail may grow back distorted.
It’s really a case-by-case situation and it depends very much on your personal history. But if you’ve just stubbed your toe or worn tight shoes or sports boots, then it’s likely it’ll grow back normal.
Why is part of my nail so white now, instead of pink?
The reason our nails have that nice pink colour is because of the tiny blood vessels that feed the nail bed directly beneath your nail. When the nail exceeds the nail bed at the tips of the nail, it appears white. The same is true if part of your nail is now white – the nail has separated from the nail bed, and so now appears white instead of pink.
Be careful if this is the case – dirt and bacteria can get trapped in this newly formed ‘cave’ between the nail and nail bed, putting you at risk of infection. To help, you can wash and dry thoroughly in this area or cut the nail back accordingly, being careful not to go too far.
Worried About Your Nail?
If you’re worried about your toenails, something doesn’t look or feel right, or you’re experiencing any unexpected pain or discomfort, your local My FootDr podiatrists are here to help.
If your toenail is loose but hasn’t fallen off yet, here are a few tips on how to look after the nail:
- Try to keep the edges of the nail as smooth as possible using a nail file to stop them catching on the edges of shoes and socks
- Keep a simple dressing over the toe to reduce irritation to the area
- Avoid tight, narrow footwear that put pressure on the nail
- If there’s a risk of infection, monitor your nail closely, apply antiseptic as needed, and use warm salty water to help reduce the infection risk
- If your nail is painful, bleeding, or there is any other cause for concern, always see your podiatrist immediately. Especially if you have medical conditions that affect your circulation or increase your infection risk like diabetes
You may be a parent wondering if buying your child that new pair of shoes is a good idea, or if they’ll just outgrow them at the speed of light like they did with the last pair. You may have gone up a shoe size recently and have found yourself wondering didn’t my feet stop growing years ago?
Whatever the reason you’re here, the podiatry team at My FootDr have answered this age-old question and given you all the ins, outs and exceptions below.
It starts with growth plates
Quick anatomy lesson: every single growing bone has one or likely multiple growth plates. Growth plates are specific areas within a bone made of cartilage where the body adds new bone to. Simply put: they’re how our bones grow. In long bones like our shin bone, there’s a growth plate present at both the top and the bottom of the bone.
Traditionally, feet stop growing when our growth plates harden
When we’ve reached maturity, as determined by our body and hormones, our growth plates turn from being softer and more vulnerable to injury to hard, solid bone. This makes them indistinguishable from the rest of the bone, and the body is no longer able to add new bone cells in there to grow the bone. Hence, we stop growing.
The process of our growth plates hardening is unnoticeable and not painful or symptomatic, so you won’t even know it has happened – and unfortunately in the case of your child, you won’t know until some time passes and their feet haven’t increased in size, that it has occurred.
While your child’s feet are still growing and have these growth plates, they are vulnerable to problems like growing pains and fractures of the growth plate – which may even slow down the growth rate of the bone. If you’re worried about foot or leg pain in kids, bring them to your local My FootDr centre for a check up.
The magic number varies for everyone
As growth plates often close near the end of puberty, there is no magic number to work with. For some, this may be as early as 14 years, while for others, their feet may only stop growing around the age of 18 or beyond. Boys do tend to stop growing earlier than girls – but this is a generalisation. If your child is currently going through a growth spurt – their feet are almost certainly still growing.
Feet can change size in adults, but they don’t grow
When it comes to growing feet in adults, you’ll likely be right if you feel that your feet may have changed size, but this won’t actually be the feet ‘growing’. There are a number of conditions, causes and foot problems that affect the posture and alignment of the feet, which in turn affects their size. For example, if you were to go from having a nicely arched foot, to one that is significantly flatter, then your foot will be longer and wider, and you may not fit your normal shoes comfortably.
Reasons for feet changing size in adults include:
- Pregnancy – increases foot size due to the hormone Relaxin which loosens the ligaments and connective tissues, so the feet tend to flatten
- Tight, small shoes – can cause our toes to claw and therefore our feet will appear smaller due to the reduced toe length
- Thongs and similar shoes that encourage our toes to grip the ground – also encourage muscle and ligament contracture resulting in the claw or hammertoe position which can make our foot length appear smaller
- Age – from our 50’s onwards, our ligaments tend to lose some of the strength and flexibility they once had, and stretch. This means our feet can get bigger and wider
- Weight – as your weight increases or decreases, you may find that your foot size does too due to the added mass
- Swelling – a number of medical conditions, as well as lifestyle factors, can cause our feet to swell and therefore influence the size of our feet – and definitely the shoe size we need to walk comfortably
Unfortunately, when our feet flatten, the tissues, ligaments and muscles in our feet are more easily strained and overused, which can quickly lead to foot pain. This is why often use solutions like custom foot orthotics to keep feet and arches well supported, maximising comfort and reducing the risk of injury.
Worried about the changes you’re seeing in your or your child’s feet?
While changes to the feet in both adults and kids can be normal, remember that foot pain is never normal, and that if you’re worried about something you’ve noticed then trust your gut instinct and come in for a foot health check.
Our experienced podiatry team perform comprehensive assessments that look at everything from muscle and joint strength, flexibility and function, to a postural assessment, to a detailed video gait analysis and more. This gives us a complete picture of what’s happening with your feet – and what we can do to help.
Netball is the most popular female sport in Australia, with both women and children participating in the high-intensity, fast-paced game. With every quick sprint, dodge, ball intercept or ‘break’, comes the potential for injury.
With the new school year just around the corner, it’s fantastic to see the kids decorating their school books, getting their bags and uniforms ready and getting excited about what classes they’ll be in. But what about their feet?
Having the right gear and care for their feet is an easy and simple way to help your child get the best start to the school year! Two healthy feet can keep your student feeling comfortable, out of pain, able to run and play with their friends, and not miss out on school activities and sports.
To help, My FootDr has put together our top 5 ways to start this school year on the right foot!Read more
Knowing whether you’ve just been more active over the last few days, it’s that new pair of shoes, it’s the weather – or if something more serious underpinning the foot pain you’re experiencing can be very hard.
Many Australians put up with foot pain daily, hoping that the pain will disappear on its own, and trialling simple lifestyle changes with no improvement.
While for some, the thought of coming home, taking off your shoes and socks and putting your feet up after a long day feels like bliss, many Australians opt to keep their feet hidden because of peeling skin on the bottoms of their feet.
As “I don’t know why my feet do that, they’re always peeling” is a sentence we hear often in our podiatry clinics, today we thought we’d share our four most common causes of peeling feet – and what you can do to remedy the problem.
Your child’s school shoes will help them put their best foot forward for the new 2021 school year! So don’t take chances – follow this handy guide to help choose the best shoes for your kids.
Each year, having a second pair of custom foot orthotics saves thousands of patients significant time, money, hassle and the recurring question: “now which shoes did I leave my orthotics in?”.
If you’re on the fence about whether you need that second pair, here’s what you should know.
Genetics, age, foot problems, trauma, pregnancy, foot swelling and wearing unsupportive footwear for too long are just some of the reasons why your feet may be wider than the ‘average’ person that shoe companies manufacture shoes for.