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Bruised toenails -- will continuing to stuff my feet into my climbing shoes make these worse, or keep them from healing?

Original Post
Abbie R · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 5

Hi friends - so sorry for a picture of my stupid feet, haha.

About 3 weeks ago, I went on a really long hike (13 mi) and must have laced my boots (which I already don't wear often) poorly or strangely. My big toenails were sore after but had NO discoloration.

About 2 weeks ago, I climbed all day for 3 days in a row, and my big toes started to REALLY hurt -- very tender. A day or two after that, the discoloration appeared.

So now it's been about 2 weeks with my toes looking like this. They don't hurt  much anymore, but I've been wearing exclusively sandals to keep the pressure off. I've climbed a bit in the past two weeks, but only wearing my Mythos as they bother my toes the least.

I'm wondering if continuing to stuff my feet into climbing shoes is going to keep this from healing? OR, will that even make it worse? The last thing I want is for both toenails to turn black and fall off. I would like to keep climbing regularly but am unsure if it's wise.

Would love to hear from long-distance runners or anyone else who has experience with toenail stuff! I'm in uncharted territory, here. Thank you and sorry again for making you look at my feet!

Jason Todd · · Cody, WY · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 1,114

It is sooo nice once the nails fall off though!

Those spots will likely be there until your nail grows out.

If you continue to stuff your feet into climbing shoes, they will continue to change.  Each toenail will develop their own personality, some easier to deal with than others. I have one smaller toe that has a nail too thick for clippers, I'm 100% certain it is from damage to the nail bed by being crammed into too tight of shoes.

Abbie R · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 5

Ugh, so you're saying I may as well do what I want, because this is probably not going to heal at all -- it's just going to grow out?!

Le sigh. I guess that's fine, haha.

Sarah K · · Boulder, CO · Joined May 2009 · Points: 80

Sorry your toenails have been damaged Abbie! Let me tell you about my recent experience with loosing toenails so you have another case study. :)

Both of my big toenails were damaged from doing a long day of backcountry skinning (yes, skinning, not skiing much that day) in difficult conditions with too tight boots. I also damaged the second toenail on my right side. These toes hurt terribly for about 2 weeks, and then they slowly stopped hurting. After about 3 weeks they did not hurt anymore, but the big toe nails were completely black and the second toenail was about 50% black. The color in the second toenail slowly faded and is now back to normal. However, the base of my big toe nails started to get thick and this concerned me so I went to a podiatrist. They said that the nail beds had been damaged and a new nail was beginning to grow under the old ones. They said all was well but that eventually the old ones would fall off.

After about 4 months I went canyoneering and my feet were soaked all day. One of the toenails fell off completely and the other was partially detached. I trimmed the one that is partially detached.

They are still growing out and now there is just a small area of the old one left on the side that didn't completely detach. I was worried it would hurt a lot having no nail, but it doesn't bother me at all. It's not so bad!

In sum, from my experience I would say keep the pressure off them until they don't hurt anymore. Then it's fair game, but keep them trimmed as close as you can to prevent further damage.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275
Abbie R wrote: 

About 3 weeks ago, I went on a really long hike (13 mi) and must have laced my boots (which I already don't wear often) poorly or strangely. My big toenails were sore after but had NO discoloration.

When you were hiking downhill, were your feet sliding forward with your toes hitting the end of the shoe? If your toes are banging on the end of the shoe, that will cause problems. Correct sizing and snug lacing will help.

Abbie R · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 5
Sarah K wrote: Sorry your toenails have been damaged Abbie! Let me tell you about my recent experience with loosing toenails so you have another case study. :)

... In sum, from my experience I would say keep the pressure off them until they don't hurt anymore. Then it's fair game, but keep them trimmed as close as you can to prevent further damage.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Sarah! That's definitely helpful. I will for sure keep them trimmed! 

Abbie R · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 5
FrankPS wrote:

When you were hiking downhill, were your feet sliding forward with your toes hitting the end of the shoe? If your toes are banging on the end of the shoe, that will cause problems. Correct sizing and snug lacing will help.

Yeah I was between sizes in those boots (one of the reasons I don't wear them much), so they are a bit roomy. I don't think I was careful enough when I laced them up! Thanks for the tip!

Jason Halladay · · Los Alamos, NM · Joined Oct 2005 · Points: 13,045

It might be a bit too late for this to help but a heated up needle (get it glowing!) pushed through the nail to let the blood out and release the pressure helps a lot. Then you'll just have the discoloration to look at without much of any pain. That said, my right big toenail is basically in a constantly bruised state from ultrarunning and climbing even with this pressure release method. I suspect not doing anything will help them feel better and heal but not doing anything isn't realistic so I'd say just keep getting after it. Maybe climb steeper stuff, where you're not pressing as hard on your feet, for a bit.

slim · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2004 · Points: 1,107

this is one of the battles i have been fighting for a while now.  my toenails usually get bruised if i let my toenails get too thick, but your toenails don't look thick at all.  Do you climb in the sun by chance?  i have found that if it is warmer than 50 degrees or so, if i i climb in the sun my toenails will take a beating.

Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,482

I've had pools of blood under my big toe before. I drained it by coming in under the front of the nail with a sterilized needle. Of course I dunk the toe in alcohol first, at least until he was slurring his speech and saying "really love you man" a lot. In any case, the nail had already detached from the nail bed, so the needle punctured the blood reservoir and it drained out nicely, relieving the pressure and pain. There is no need to go through the nail itself.

Abbie R · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 5

Oh sweet baby jesus h, I don't think I can stick a needle in my toenail, or under it, or anywhere near it! Holy shit. It's gonna have to do its healing without that. (or someone can come anesthetize me and do it for me ha)

To answer some questions - I'm pretty sure the initial damage to the toenails was during the hike, not from any climbing. The climbing clearly exacerbated it, though!

Maybe climb steeper stuff, where you're not pressing as hard on your feet, for a bit.
This was actually my plan; however, it does feel weird to attempt overhangs in my Mythos, haha

Also

Of course I dunk the toe in alcohol first, at least until he was slurring his speech and saying "really love you man" a lot. 
just calling this out to let you know that I did indeed lol
Mark Paulson · · Raleigh, NC · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 141

My right toenail has been bruised to some extent for years now, though all my nails will hurt after a couple days of hard vertical rope climbing.  My advice would be to not worry about it- pain is a better indicator than bruising (which will be there until the nail grows out). These people advocating hot needle lancing are crazy. In general, wear the most comfortable shoes you can that will get you up a route.  These days, I only pull out my really aggressive shoes when nothing else will do.

Tim Stich · · Colorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2001 · Points: 1,482

The needle would be painful for those since the blood is so far back. I would just climb in approach shoes for a while. 

Jason Halladay · · Los Alamos, NM · Joined Oct 2005 · Points: 13,045
Tim Stich wrote: The needle would be painful for those since the blood is so far back. I would just climb in approach shoes for a while. 

Thus, the hot-needle-through-the-nail trick.   

Austin Wainwright · · Arico, Tenerife · Joined Feb 2019 · Points: 40

I've had this issue a few times after running ultras. If you heat the needle and gently twist it in it doesn´t hurt really and once the pressure releases it aleviates a lot. This kind of has to be done when the bleeding is fresh, if it's been a few days and congealed then I can't see any point. The important thing is to keep them as clean as possible as swaety feet are a good way to get an infection. Watch out for swelling, redness etc. In my case I managed to climb by keeping rock shoe time to a minimum and wearing my warm up shoes for a couple of weeks. There is a good chance the nails will fall off whatever you do by the look of it, don't worry, it won't hurt if you let them come off naturally. Just keep them as short as possible. 

Abbie R · · Denver, CO · Joined Mar 2017 · Points: 5

Thanks for all the advice!

I think I'm going to skip the needle as there is no pain anymore (even when applying pressure). Climbing gently in the Mythos does not seem to be bothering them too much, so I'm going to keep going with that -- maybe keep it to shorter sessions and let the piglets breathe as much as possible between climbs. Hopefully they don't end up falling off, but if they do, I'll thank them for their service and try to put on a brave face! 

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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