All About Runner’s Toe: Causes, Complications, and Prevention

May 08, 2023
All About Runner’s Toe: Causes, Complications, and Prevention
A blackened, sore toe isn’t what you hope for when you get into a running routine. Learn why runner’s toe happens, where it can lead, and how to lower your risk.

You’ve been enjoying the benefits of running regularly when you notice that one of your toenails has grown painful and black. While this condition, known as runner’s toe or a subungual hematoma, isn’t dangerous, it can be quite bothersome. 

Thankfully, you can take steps to turn your symptoms around and prevent future flare-ups. 

At Mayfair Foot Care in Commack, New York, Drs. Edward BuroChristine Peterson, and Rosario Saccomanno are pleased to diagnose and treat painful toe conditions, including wounds and sports injuries.

Let’s take a closer look at runner’s toe, including why it happens, where it can lead, and helpful steps for prevention.

Runner’s toe causes

Runner’s toe happens when your toe repeatedly slams into or rubs on your shoe. The stress of that impact or friction can cause pain, irritation, and bleeding. Blood under your toenail is what causes the black color, which may gradually darken.

Running isn’t the only cause of these symptoms, so runner’s toe is also known as tennis toe. Symptoms can also stem from soccer, squash, and rock climbing. Virtually any activity that causes your toe to hit your shoe from within can lead to pain and discoloration. 

Other potential causes include walking long distances in tight shoes, kicking an object, and dropping a heavy object on your toe.

Runner’s toe complications

Most cases of runner’s toe heal well in time, but complications can happen. Any break in your skin, including under your nail, for example, increases infection risk. An infection can also derive from trying to soak or drain the hematoma on your own. 

Depending on how much damage your toenail has endured, you might also lose the nail. If your nail does fall off at some point, a new nail will likely have already started growing underneath. Less commonly, the nail doesn’t grow back at all.

Preventing runner’s toe and its complications

If you’re already dealing with runner’s toe, you can lower your risk for complications by avoiding soaking it or draining it yourself. Meanwhile, come into our office if you notice signs of infection, such as warmth, swelling, and pus. 

To prevent runner’s toe in the first place, consider these steps:

  • Keep your toenails properly trimmed
  • Wear shoes that fit well, with 1/2-inch between your big toe and your shoe
  • Wear shoes that allow you to wiggle your toes

You may also benefit from shoes designed for your particular sport or custom orthotics that keep your feet in proper positions.

To learn more about runner’s toe or get started with the care you need, call Mayfair Foot Care or book an appointment through our website today.