How to avoid one of running’s ickiest injuries

This lesser-known (and kind of scary) symptom of running long distances can be avoided with these six simple suggestions.

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Woman running for exercise
Photo, Masterfile.

Run for long enough, and sooner or later, you’ll find yourself with a black toenail, a.k.a. runner’s toe. “If you want to start becoming a runner, be prepared to have your nails injured,” says Dr. Roy Mathews, a podiatrist in Vancouver. Caused by toes rubbing up against the inside of your shoes, black toenails are often the result of long runs and running downhill. Here’s how to avoid them — and what to do if you have one.

1. Wear the right shoe size
Give your toes a bit of breathing room by buying the right shoes. “You want to get your shoes fit at a professional running shoe store, later in the day, when your feet are a little bit swollen,” says Mathews.

Pick shoes with enough space to fit the width of your pinkie between your longest toe and the end of the shoe, says Dr. Stephen Hartman, a Waterloo-based podiatrist. Make sure the shoe is deep enough for your foot, and that it doesn’t have any seams near your toes.

Click here for more on how to buy the right running shoe for you.

2. Trim your toenails
Same problem, different answer: keep your toenails nicely trimmed, and they’re less likely to hit your shoes. “Cut your nails and run once before you run a race,” suggests Hartman.

3. Wear the right socks
Moisture increases the chances of your foot slipping towards the front of your shoe. Wear workout-specific socks, which wick away moisture, rather than cotton or wool ones.

Our fitness expert James Fell swears by his running socks. Follow the jump for why he thinks they’re a must-buy for runners.

4. Look out for hammer toes
The second most-common cause of black toes are hammer toes, says Dr. Mathews, which bend too far down. They can be straightened by a podiatrist.

5. Leave it alone
Most black toenails don’t hurt, and most don’t lead to the nail falling off. See a podiatrist to make sure everything’s okay. If it hurts, there’s signs of infection, or the nail is loose it could be a more serious issue. If everything’s fine, the damaged black portion will grow out naturally as a new nail comes in.

6. Try a quick fix
“There are some off the shelf treatments,” says Dr. Mathews, adding that some of his patients swear by NonyX Nail Gel. The ultimate simple solution? Cover up the blackness with nail polish while you wait for it to grow out.