How to Treat a Torn Toenail 

Snagging the toenail on something, stubbing the toe or even mindlessly pulling on the nail can leave you with a toenail that is torn or separated from the skin. This can be very painful and if you are not careful it may not heal properly, leading to more issues over time. Torn nails can be quite painful and they may bruise, bleed or become inflamed. Now comes the problem: how to treat a torn toenail?

In most cases, you can treat the symptoms of a torn nail at home, but if you are in great pain you may need to visit a doctor to manage effectively. Understanding both how to treat these injuries and how to prevent them can help you avoid causing permanent damage to the foot.

How to Treat a Torn Toenail

1. Find Out Root Causes

Determining what caused your toenail to tear should be an important step in determining how to treat a torn toenail. If you are not sure what you did to tear the nail, you may wind up making the condition worse. For example, if your nail is separating from the bed due to fungal infections, applying moisturizers or similar products will only make your problem worse.

Most torn toenails are caused by physical injuries such as stubbing the toe. Some heavy duty activities like dancing or running can also cause the nail to separate from the bed. Exposing to moisture frequently or dry conditions excessively can also lead to torn toenails. Some conditions like eating disorders, hypothyroidism and skin diseases can also cause this trouble. Exposing the feet to harsh chemicals like nail polish remover can also cause the nails to become brittle, increasing your risk that they will tear.

2. Treat Minor Damage

Vertical or horizontal splits that are minor can take chips out of your nail but don't actually harm the skin beneath the nail. You can simply trim off areas affected by chips to avoid snagging the nail on something later. If your nails seem to chip regularly, it may be necessary to take supplements that will help you strengthen your toenails or visit your doctor to ensure an issue like a fungal infection is not damaging the nails.

3. Treat Moderate Damage

Moderate damage such as deeper cracks in the tissue may require more attention. Try to keep the nail together until it grows long enough for it to grow out, allowing you to trim off the damaged tissue. Painting a layer of nail polish or superglue over the damaged nail can help with this. You can also paint a layer of clear nail polish over the cracked nail and then place a coffee filter or tea back over the polish while it dries. The paper will then help strengthen the nail, holding it together.

Pedicurists can also help you with moderate damage to the nail. They can evaluate severity of the crack nail or use glue to help keep it together. In some cases applying a false nail over the cracked area can help. Just be sure to visit your pedicurist to get these nails changed every 1-2 weeks as your nails grow.

4. Treat Severe Damage

Blunt force trauma can cause severe damage to the toes. These will cause cracks that are very long, deep and painful. They can also be accompanied by skin damage, infection, bleeding, bruising or broken bones. Clean these damaged areas by using an antiseptic or antibacterial cream. If your nail has completely separated from the bed, cover this area with a bandage to protect the skin until you grow a new nail. If the area becomes swollen or inflamed, or discharges pus, visit a doctor to determine if you need antibiotics to treat the infected area.

5. Treat Symptoms of Toenail

In terms of how to treat a torn toenail, the first thing you need to pay attention to is the symptoms. If your toe is swollen, apply ice to help relieve this pressure. If you are in pain, take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help you manage. Continue to apply ice or take pain medication as necessary to manage your symptoms. These should disappear in a week but it can take a few months for a nail to grow back after severe damage has occurred.

If you are covering the area with a bandage, change these dressings regularly. If you develop redness, pus or heat in this area or you notice a red streak extending from your injury, call your health care provider to treat this infection. You may need a tetanus shot depending on how you were injured as well. Your doctor can also help ensure that the toe is not fractured and will determine if the nail needs to be removed to repair the tissue below. If blood has collected beneath the nail, your doctor may drill a hole in the nail to release this pressure.

6. Treat Re-Growing Nails

  • Wear Proper Clothes. Avoid wearing shoes that constrict the toenails. Instead, select models that have enough room for you to wiggle your toes around.
  • Trim Toenails. Trim the toenails often. Leaving the nails long increases your risk that they will get caught on something and tear. Also avoid pulling on the nails as this can increase your risk of tearing the tissue.
  • Moisturize Your Toenails. Using moisturizing lotion or creams that have humectants in them such as phospholipids, urea or lactic acid to the feet can help keep the nails from becoming brittle. This can decrease your risk of cracking. If you have already torn your nail, avoid moist conditions like washing the dishes or cleaning as exposing the damaged nail to a great deal of moisture can increase your risk of infection.