Ingrown Toenail (Onychocryptosis)

  • Medical Author:
    Kyoung Min Han, DPM, AACFAS

    Dr. Kyoung Min Han is a podiatrist (foot and ankle specialist) practicing in Southern California. Dr. Han completed her undergraduate education at the University of California, San Diego, and went on to the New York College of Podiatric Medicine to pursue her medical training. She returned to her native Southern California to complete a three-year foot and ankle surgical residency, followed by subspecialty training in a sports medicine fellowship.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ingrown Toenail Symptom

Toe Pain

Pain in the toe can arise due to abnormalities or injury to any of the structures in the toe, including skin, nerves, bones, blood vessels, and soft tissues. Toe pain is a fairly common symptom, since our feet are constantly exposed to injury by walking, running, or other athletic activity, and moving around. Some types of toe pain can be accompanied by numbness, burning, warmth, or other symptoms. The most common causes of toe pain include ingrown toenails, bunions, cuts or scrapes, other injuries, blisters, and corns and calluses. Arthritis (including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and other types of arthritis) and infections are additional causes of toe pain.

Quick GuideNail Color and Texture: What Nails Say About Your Health

Nail Color and Texture: What Nails Say About Your Health

Ingrown toenail facts

  • An ingrown toenail is a common, often unpleasant condition frequently seen in the big toenail.
  • Athletes commonly suffer from ingrown toenails.
  • Improper shoe gear and toe injuries are frequently associated with ingrown toenails.
  • It is not unusual for an ingrown toenail to recur unless treated appropriately.
  • Conservative treatments include soaks, elevation, proper nail cutting, and good foot hygiene. Medical treatment is not always required. Oral antibiotics are sometimes required as a treatment if infection is present. A health care professional can perform a minor toenail procedure if the problem is severe or recurrent.

What are ingrown toenails?

An ingrown toenail (onychocryptosis) is caused by the pressure from the ingrowth of the nail edge into the skin of the toe. Once the edge of the nail breaks through the skin, it produces inflammation. Initially presenting as a minor discomfort, it may progress into an infection in the adjacent skin (cellulitis) and/or become a reoccurring problem. Ingrown toenails most commonly affect the large (great) toes.

What causes ingrown toenails?

An imbalance between the size of the nail and the enlargement of the nail skin edge causes ingrown toenails. This condition can be exacerbated by improper trimming of the toenail, an inherited or hereditary condition, and improper shoe fitting. Injury by overly aggressive pedicures and nail picking are also common causes. Some people's toenails naturally curl inward (known as pincer nails). These toenails can easily become painful. Adolescents and athletes perspire more often. This causes nails and skin to be soft. The thin nail can eventually split and pierce the softened skin.

Reviewed on 7/5/2017

American Podiatric Medical Association

Connolly, B., and R.J. Fitzgerald. "Pledgets in ingrowing toenails." Arch Dis Child 63 (1988): 71.

Cox, H.A., and M.R.O. Jones. "Direct extension osteomyelitis secondary to chronic onychocryptosis. Three case reports." Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association 85.6 (1995): 321-324.

DeLauro, N.M., and T.M. DeLauro. "Onychocryptosis." Clinics in Podiatric Medicine and Surgery 21.4 (2004): 617-630.

Gunal, I., C. Kosay, A. Veziroglu, Y. Balkan, and F. Ilhan. "Relationship between onychocryptosis and foot type and treatment with toe spacer. A preliminary investigation." Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association 93.1 (2003): 33-36.

Heidelbaugh, J.J., and H. Lee. "Management of the ingrown toenail." American Family Physician 79.4 (2009): 303-308.

Reyzelman, A.M., K.A. Trombello, D.J. Vayser, et al. "Are antibiotics necessary in the treatment of locally infected ingrown toenails?" Arch Fam Med 9 (2000): 930.

Richert, B. "Surgical management of ingrown toenails -- an update overdue." Dermatol Ther 25.6 (2012): 498-509.






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