The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Four Easy Fixes for Cracked Toenails

Posted by on Monday, November 5th, 2012

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Toenails are tough, and they need to be. After all, they exist to help protect our toes from all the potential trauma they face everyday as we walk, run, or just squeeze on a pair of bad shoes.

But everything has a limit, including toenails. Sometimes they crack, split, or break. If that happens, what should you do?

First, a little information about what might cause your toenail to crack:

  • Trauma As noted above, it usually takes something pretty extreme to break or crack your toenail–for example, dropping something heavy on your toe (in which case you may have other injuries to deal with other than a split toenail). A toenail can also split due to repeated minor traumas, like the banging of a toenail against the toe box of your running shoes if you run a lot, or if you play any other sport that puts your feet through a lot. Dancers are also susceptible to broken or cracked nails.
  • Too much moisture If your feet are constantly alternating between being wet and dry, then your toenails can weaken and break or split. Who does this fit? Seriously training swimmers and…people who have jobs where they’re frequently in water. Perhaps people who work in the fishing or boating industries.
  • Too little moisture Living in an area with very dry air can affect your nails, causing them to dry out and split. (A great preventative:  regularly apply  vegetable oil to your nails with a cotton swab. This is a big help for dry, brittle nails.)
  • Toenail infections Untreated toenail infections can eventually cause a nail to break or split.
  • Poor Diet or Illness When your body doesn’t get enough nutrients, it shows up in your toenails. This can either happen because you’re not getting enough food in general (in which case brittle toenails are only one of a myriad of problems), or because you’re not eating food rich in the vitamins and minerals you need. For example, iron deficiency, or anemia, is often indicated by nail problems (note: if you’re skipping nutritious foods just because you think they don’t taste as good as junk food, you’re wrong–you can easily add nutrients with delicious spices like cinnamon and clove that will perk up any food, as well as your toenails). Cracking or discolored nails can also mean you have another health problem brewing in your body. If your nails are brittle and cracking and none of the other causes above seem to apply, then you should see your doctor.

Now to take care of the actual split or break:

Deal with trauma If your nail is cracked or broken due to a known trauma, then you should check your toe for further damage. If there’s bleeding, press on the area with a clean cloth or bandage to stop the bleeding. If there’s a chunk of nail hanging off, trim it down as close as you can to the whole  undamaged part of the nail. Clean the affected area, especially if you’re in a situation where dirt or gravel might have gotten into your nailbed or skin. Apply an antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandage. If you suspect there might be real damage to the toe or nail bed, see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine ( 212.996.1900 ) for an exam and treatment.

Repair If you’re not dealing with more important things like a smashed toe from extreme trauma and you just want to keep a split nail together until the new part grows in, then you have a couple of options:

  1. Nail repair kits You can buy nail repair kits in drugstores. These have an acrylic solution that you can paint on your nail, and then paint over with nail polish if you want.
  2. Nail polish Some people skip the kits and just use clear nail polish to hold the nail together.
  3. Nail polish plus coffee filter/tea bag Rather than just use clear nail polish, you can add a little something to help fill in the gap. Take a clean, unused coffee filter or an empty, unfolded tea bag  and cut out a patch that will cover the affected nail. Apply a coating of clear nail polish to your nail. Wait a few seconds, then, before the polish dries, press the filter patch onto the nail. Paint another clear coat of polish over the filter patch. Let that dry; if you want you can now put a coat of colored polish on it. Leave the patch in place until your nail grows out and pushes the split far enough up that you can trim back to a whole nail. This video shows how to fix a cracked fingernail using this method but of course it applies to toenails as well.
  4. Superglue Yes, seriously, just glue it together. As long as you don’t have open wounds or glue your fingers to your toes or any nearby objects, this is fine (and if you do get it on your fingers, you can just use nail polish remover to clean it off).

If you think the crack or break in your toenail is more than you can handle, don’t hesitate to see your podiatrist. And remember, if your crack or split isn’t related to trauma, see your regular  doctor as well–your nails may be trying to tell you something about your health!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.