Thickened toenails - causes, therapy and home remedies

Thickened toenails - causes, therapy and home remedies

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When the toenails thicken - simple home remedies and therapies

Thickened toenails are also known as wooden nails. It is often an illness. We speak of wooden nail because the nail not only becomes thicker, but furrows form "like tree bark" and turn yellow to brown - "like wood".

Nail thickening

Nail thickening, as a technical term grypose, occurs particularly on the toenails. It is an independent disease. The nail becomes thick and discolored, usually it also bends, grows out of the nail bed or curls up. The nails often become brittle and lose their shine. A thickened nail can cause pain and even hinder walking. A grypose is not contagious.

Athlete's foot and nail fungus

If it is not a grypose, there may be a fungal infection. A athlete's foot can also infect the toenails, the nails will then become brittle and discolored.

A lack of hygiene favors an athlete's foot, but even careful pedicure does not guarantee that they remain free of it. It is one of the most common fungal infections, and a visit to the swimming pool or fitness center is enough to catch the fungus. The good news is that athlete's foot is easy to treat with medical care. Every family doctor knows antifungal ointments or sprays that push the fungus back in a few days. Athlete's foot is not a grypose.

Wrong shoes

Wrong shoes can also change the structure of the nails. Due to constant pressure, the nails no longer grow normally, but adjust their shape to the lack of space that is available to them.

The shoe can be too small if, for example, we are wearing shoe size 40 even though we have 42, or it is the right length but leaves no space for the toes.

This also applies when the shoes are completely in order. But if you have flat feet, pointed shoes are not for you.

Heeled shoes pose particular problems. They bend the foot at an unnatural angle and therefore press permanently on the toes. The sole-walker becomes a toe-walker and this overloads the toenails. Friction and pressure can ignite the nail bed and create a grypose.

Misalignment of the toes

Conversely, pressure can also arise from a congenital or acquired deformity of the toes. So they constantly rub against each other or in the shoes and the nails grow tall and crooked, as with the wrong shoes. In this way, the malposition can trigger a gryposis in the long term.

Complaints from injuries

A gryposis can also result from trauma. Blows, accidents, sprains or dislocations injure the nail root or nail bed. Be it that we get stuck in the door with the big toe, or be it a stone that falls to our feet. If the nail root is damaged, the nail can no longer grow normally.

Skin diseases also have an effect if they damage the cornification. This is especially true for psoriasis. A lack of keratin or melanin also favors a gryposis.

What to do?

A thickened nail that discolors should be examined by the doctor. Better avoid home remedies before diagnosis. After discovering the cause, foot care is the order of the day.

Once the nail has grown in, the doctor must remove it by surgery. This also applies to severe curvatures. Such an operation takes place under partial anesthesia and usually lasts only a few minutes. The exposed nail bed is very sensitive until a new nail has formed and you have to take care of it for a few weeks.

Medical foot care

You can head to a medical foot care practice, but ask your doctor about the best treatment beforehand. In practice, the thickened nail is sanded and shortened, and specialists can also correct rolled-in nails.

Once the cause has been remedied, be it athlete's foot or wrong shoes, the podiatrist can get the nail into a normal shape relatively quickly.

Home remedies for thickened toenails

Always use clean files and scissors to cut the nails. Even if you don't like the shape of your nail: don't be ruthless. If you cut too deep, a harmless thickening can become a very painful infection of the nail bed. Cream the toenails beforehand. That makes the nails smoother.

Thickened toenails are difficult to cut and file because they are hard. So, before cutting, soak your feet in warm water for about ten minutes. If you also add soap to the core, disinfect the nails.

Now file the thickened nails thinner and smoother. First you use the coarser side of the nail file, then you give the aesthetic cut with the fine side.

After filing, cutting with scissors or nail cutters is easier. If you want to prevent the nail edges from growing in, don't shorten the sides too much. Follow the skin edge. Even if a crescent-shaped nail is considered more beautiful, leave little corners. If the nail has regenerated and grown back normally, you can correct the corners.

Nail polish and good shoes

At the end you can “dust off” the nails with a polishing file. Such a file does not rub the nail, but only removes the horn dust that has remained from "grinding".

As a finishing touch, you can apply a nail polish. The nail not only shines now, but the varnish also provides nutrients. Varnish also fills grooves and minor injuries and smoothes the surface.

Repeat the procedure regularly, preferably every ten days.

Special shoes with an ideal fit, air cushions in the soles and a lining that cushions pressure are suitable to prevent thickened toes that form in response to pressure.

Also pay attention to dry feet, socks and shoes. If necessary, use foot powder for this, as is required, for example, in the British Army. Not only athlete's foot, but also other infections of the toes form particularly quickly when the feet are moist and the pores are therefore permeable.

Regular controll

Toenails don't thicken overnight. Therefore, you can prevent pathological thickening by regularly checking your nails. If it is a mushroom, you will first see how the nails lose their shine and change their color.

The nails deform at the edges first, and only later does the whole nail thicken and become brittle.

If you have injured a nail, pay careful attention to it immediately before the injury becomes a curled or ingrown problem.

Also pay attention to comfortable shoes. Footwear that leads to nail thickening presses long in advance.

Remove nails?

In the past, doctors mostly used the "brute method". They cut out the thickened nail so that a new healthy one could form. Today, doctors are trying to save the nail more often.

With lighter thickening, it often works to get the nail back in shape by filing and cutting.

You and the doctor should carefully consider removing the nail. Pulling a nail is painful when the effect of partial anesthesia wears off. As a rule, you have to protect the corresponding foot for several weeks. The wound is also easily infected and there is no guarantee that the new nail will develop healthily.

Age is a risk

Older people often complain about thick toenails. It is a typical aging disorder that arises from generally poorer blood circulation, which is one of the classic changes in an aging body.

For older people, therefore, the tips on foot care apply to a special extent. Clean your feet, change socks every day and disinfect your feet when you go to the swimming pool or sauna.

If the toenails thicken even slightly, seek professional foot care. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


  • Fritz Bittig: Image Atlas Podology: Findings, Treatment, Prophylaxis, Karl F. Haug, 2017
  • Severin Läuchli; C. Riess: Ingrown toenails: nail extraction and wedge excision are “out”, ars medici, 2014
  • Eckart Haneke: "Controversies in the Treatment of Ingrown Nails", in: Dermatalogy Research and Practice, 2012, NCBI
  • Georg Hohmann: Foot and leg: their illnesses and their treatment, Springer, 1951

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