So, you’ve ripped off your toenail?

Blackened Toenail

On Monday, January 31 I ripped the toenail off my left big toe.  It was a freak accident, one of those things that you can’t really replicate in your mind how exactly it happened… but the general gist is that I opened a door, smacked it into my toe somehow, the toenail popped up at a 90° angle inside my shoe and started bleeding all over.  So here are my steps for “recovery” with a dose of sarcasm.

1. Put the nail back on
Sit down and ease your foot out of your shoe. Pause briefly, look at the blood oozing out, then get to work. Push the nail back down on the nail bed if it’s still attached to the toe in spots.  (Mine was still attached horizontally across the middle of the toe… so I guess it was just half of my toenail that came off… but when you’re in the moment, who’s measuring?)

2. Wrap it up
Grab napkins, paper towels, tissues… whatever you can and wrap it around the bleeding nail.  Several layers.  Jam some more napkins in the toe of your shoe to create some compression when you ease your foot back into the shoe.

3. Avoid passing out
Go back to your car, get really dizzy and let the world get slightly black. Fight against that feeling by leaning your head against the headrest.  Get cold and start shivering.  Call your spouse and cry. (If you’re a guy, you may want to avoid the crying part.)  Call your mom and cry. (Again, guys may not want to do this.)

4. Avoid going home
Instead of heading home to promptly address the situation, avoid home.  Go somewhere with a bunch of other people and keep your foot elevated.  This way you have to explain to several others exactly how clumsy you are.

5. Play first aid at home
Once you’re home, clean the toe off.  There will probably be a lot of blood on the napkins you wrapped around the injury.  Try not to look too closely at that.  Soak the foot in warm water, adding Epsom salts can help soothe the site.  Gently dry the foot off, douse it in peroxide and wrap it up in some gauze.  If you realize you don’t have any first aid tape to keep the gauze on, use band-aids.

6. Avoid looking at it again for about 12-24 hours
Just thinking about the wound will give you the heebie-jeebies… just try to ignore it.

7. Play first aid some more
Keep dousing it in peroxide each day and wrapping it up.  Foot soaks in Epsom salts are still soothing.

8. Remove polish
After a few days, gently remove the nail polish. (Guys, if you have painted your toes, you are weird.) This may sting at moments, so try to be really careful.  But really, it’s the only way to see just what state the toenail is in.
Bruised toenail

9. Be surprised
If you have responded in the previous ways, you will be surprised at how little bruising there is and how your nail seems to be settled into the nail bed again.  Granted, the nail is probably going to fall off at some point, but today is not that day.

10. Use protection
The nail will still be very sensitive, especially if you have a puppy that steps on it continually.  You can keep wrapping it in the gauze, but that is kind of annoying if you try to run.  If that’s the case, go to a drugstore and buy a gel toe protector.  It cost about $6.50, which seems like a lot for what it is (basically a condom for your toe).  But when you put it on and feel the gel protection, it will feel like a very worthwhile purchase.
Toe Protection
Alright, so none of this is based on any real medical information (well, perhaps some things like compression and elevation) and is written with a hefty dose of self-effacing humor.  But in all honesty, I am surprised at how well my toe seems to be doing.  Yes, it still hurts quite a bit.  I ran 5.5 miles yesterday and realized that 5 was kind of the limit on the pain threshold for that day.  But each day is a little better.

I have discovered that I pop my toe up a lot.  I don’t know if that’s something I have always done because the only time I’ve really paid attention to what my toes are doing is when I’m practicing yoga, and that requires you to spread your toes and ground yourself.  But the past couple days I have noticed that I’ll pop that toe up in the air while standing in the kitchen or while working on Jade’s obedience school homework.  I really notice it when I have shoes on, because I pop that toe up against the top of the shoe and am instantly reminded, “Hey dummy, you hurt the toe, remember? Don’t do that!”

*Please, please, please don’t take any of this as medical rule. And if you are crazy enough to do so, please don’t yell at me if your toenail doesn’t heal that well!


64 Comments

  1. I’m terrified by the possibility of losing a toenail, through running or other methods. But I’m glad that your toe is healing up nicely! And I don’t think I would have been able to handle the situation as well as you did! It’s good to know that there is such thing as a toe condom for these occasions. I will have to keep that little tidbit in the back of my mind just in case I ever need one…I’m glad you’re back to running, hopefully your toe will let you go past 5 miles soon :)

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  2. Ok, I have to admit, i’m commenting without reading your entire post, because i was seriously getting the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it!!! eeewwww eeewww eewww it’s like nails being dragged down the chalkboard, to me!

    So sorry you had to go through that it sounds like it was painful as hell!

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  3. First of all, you have beautiful feet! And that color looks great on you, BTW. Seriously though, I’m glad you pushed it back on and it’s holding well. That will make the healing go a lot better. Don’t run too much, let that sucker heal!

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  4. Wow. I caught my big toenail on a coffee table last fall. I didn’t even think about trying to put it back, but I don’t think that was an option for my particular injury. I had to go to a podiatrist who had to “finish the job.” It hurt like heck, but I was surprised how soon I was able to run again – about 2 weeks. It is about 1/2 grown back now, so I don’t know what I’m going to do in the summer time when I want to wear sandals!

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  5. Yep, heebie jeebies is what I felt at first reading about your toe. Joe had a friend who hurt is nose badly and ran to the bathroom mirror to see. His nose was lying on his cheek. He immediately reached up and pulled it up to where it was supposed to be. He only has a little bump now. I guess for some people that is really a natural reaction. My own reaction would be to scream, cry and probably hurl whatever I had eaten that day. Glad it is doing somewhat better. WTG Kevin. I knew he should have learned something from having me as a Mom. Buy candy if your wife is crying:) Always works for me.

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    • Ew… let’s not talk about noses not being where they’re supposed to be… I have experience in that regard too! (But I couldn’t have just pulled my nose back in place and have it be fine!)

      I’m really glad you taught Kevin that lesson! It’s a good one!

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      • Actually, that’s exactly what I did. I put your nose back, covered it up, and took you to the hospital. It seems that all you have left is a bump! I guess the same first-aid applies to noses and toes (there’s a poem in there somewhere)! I’m glad your toe is doing as well as it is!

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  6. Oh man! The comments alone remind me of the time I broke my little toe and it was flailing out like a wing. I could never have just pulled it back on my own. I screamed and yelled and then had to have assistance from my dad to put the toe back into place. I also lost my big toe nail during my first marathon but had to rip it off because it was dangling by a thread. Toenail pain is some of the worst to run on!

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  7. LOL. I enjoyed reading your article very much! I was at a risk of losing a toenail during a hike, too. It didn’t come off but it throbbed in pain a lot when I was just relaxing. Half of my toenail was in the verge of coming off but I just wrapped it up in gauze (like you said) and hold it back in place for a long time before jumping in to do first aid treatments. It hurt like the devil and I took care of my toenails more after that especially during hikes where I prefer to use a pair of sandals than shoes or boots.

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  8. I just had the problem recently – yesterday in fact. Beautiful day out so I went and lay by the pool in our Condo community to just relax in the midst of finals. As I was leaving, my phone decided to slip from my bundle and take a dip in the water. I immediately jumped in and grabbed it, but in the process busted up my foot. As I got out of the pool I saw the middle toe on my right foot was a bloody mess. When we got back to our house and I started cleaning it up I realized that over half the nail was ripped off. It’s all bandaged up, and, since we don’t have the water-proof sealed bandages, I try and replace them once a day. When I was changing them this morning, it looked seriously nasty – only about a third of my nail remained. I’m really hoping it grows back – not just because it looks gross, but because the it is completely raw and painful. Of course it looks gross as well.

    Shockingly enough I didn’t cry or get dizzy seeing the injury. I think I talked myself out of feeling nauseous or pain because it looked like I had one toenail painted with bright red nail polish. It stung and I had to limp, but it could’ve been much worse.

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  9. Glad your toe is doing better, i was dragging a piece of furniture across the carpet and “OUCH!” my big toe nail was standing up only attached by the cuticle…. (gross indeed and shocking at first) YOW did that sucker throb…but it’s been four days now and your advice was a blessing, especially the peroxide. at first i only rinsed it and wrapped, even ice was too heavy and painful for it, and when i read about the peroxide i thought “durr, infection genius!” yeah, i didn’t even think of that… have a speedy recovery and pray a little prayer for me too…. thank you for posting :)

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  10. Since you’re Director of Web Services, I suppose you already know I discovered your blog through a Google search *toenail half ripped off* After walking around Walgreens sorta nauseated while I picked up various medical supplies, your third step – Avoid passing out – certainly spoke to me. I intend to return tomorrow morning for a gel toe condom.

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  11. OK so here is my question, since your problem seems to be months more advanced than me. I was backing my motorbike out a few months ago, and like is common here in Vietnam the security had to have them as packed tight as they could. I wasn’t able to get the stand up, and when I yanked it back the foot of the stand caught under the big toe nail on my left foot, ripping it I would say 99% off. It was still connected a little at the base of the nail, and though it hurt I took it like a man and didn’t even know how bad it was until I felt blood in my sandal a short time later. Had the feeling of shock, but thanks to the Boy Scouts, and my military first aid training, I know and understood what was happening and acted accordingly, though the Vietnamese I was with was flipping out as they are not taught even basic first aid here. So anyway I tried to keep the nail on it as long as I could and managed about 2 months or so, but the other day it was time to give up on the sinking ship so to speak as it was all but totally disconnected, and really only just tucked under the skin in a part, which slid off easily. Now I have this new nail starting to grow, but a little concerned, as this is the first time an entire nail has been ripped off, that the nail bed in the front of the nail is raised up higher. I would like to assume that this is normal, though I know what people say about those who assume, but wanted to check just in case….Though Vietnamese hospitals are not all that bad and most time professional….being American I never feel good getting medical advise from people that tell you badminton, basketball, and swimming will make you taller, and that you have to biol your clothes for a heat rash….

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    • Toenails usually grow back in a slightly odd way, looking like they’re not settled into the nailbed quite right, but they usually settle in. I can’t imagine having to deal with a language barrier when it comes to medical issues, what a challenge!

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      • Thank you for your help Jill. Watching it still though since I read someplace there is the chance of an ingrown nail, which is my real concern. Yes, language can be a problem, but I normally take a Vietnamese with me to translate. The bigger issue is that you have to know something about first aid as again medical science here is messed up. Google has been a great friend in this.

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  12. I ripped back my left big toe toenail on Sunday. Everything you are saying is very true especially the cold sweats and wanting to black out or vomit. My husband wasnt sypathetic for me at all. He ran from me all squirmish and gagging LOL! I need to try the epsom salt and get more peroxide. Right now my nail looks like I tried to put on a fake nail that was too big and doesnt fit with minor oozing.I will not go into other details on here although I get a kick out of grossing people out. I have been taking some left over antibiotics (I never finish my prescriptions)hoping to keep out infection along with keeping it as clean as possible . I hope mine goes back to looking normal like yours did. Thanks for your story it has helped me in one way or another.

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  13. I can’t believe I did the exact same thing, with a door, only no shoes. I found your information to be the best out there :)
    I am glad I’m not the only one that felt like I was gonna pass out. I felt kinda pathetic since I went through natural (no pain meds) childbirth 3 times and never felt like I was going to pass out.

    It’s been 3 days for me and I still have a toenail. Going to try the grocery store today since I’m out of neosporin. Was considering getting one of the driving carts but I decided against it because it would require me telling yet another person how retarded I am.

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  14. OMG i kick the stair step i lost my big toe nail and it all happen right as i was getting ready for vacation june 9,2012 i keep the nail on for the week but omg it was so painful 3 kid kicking it and husband to but with in a week it was ready to come off so i took it off o and i used neosporin up under becouse mine had really lifted and bleed bad so new cant wait to have a nail to polish july 1,2012 no nail yet lol sad

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  15. Hi there! I did EXACTLY the same thing as you 4 days ago — opened a door on my toenail. Really bummed out because I have to give a race a miss tomorrow, and I have another one next weekend. My toenail’s still bleeding and seeping lymph, and walking’s painful enough. I can’t even begin to think about running! How soon before you started running again? I’m hoping I can brisk-walk next week’s (thankfully short 5K) race, but I need to start training for the next 8 races I’ve signed up for. Will running make it worse?

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    • I was running (gently) again after about 5 or 6 days. By about 10 days after I could kick up the intensity again. I guess it will all depend on just how bad the damage is, since yours is still bleeding is sounds like it may take a while. Mine stopped bleeding about 36 hours after it happened.

      Good luck!

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      • Thanks Jill! I tried the Epson salts as you recommended—10 minutes of heaven. The pharmacy didn’t have the toe condom though… Thanks for the advice! You have a really funny blog — keep it up! And happy running!

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  16. I have this same problem but with my second toenail on my right foot.  I was going through some cabinets and when I closed one I slammed it into my toenail and my toenail lifted up.  I put band-aids on it for about two weeks and it looks like its perfectly back in place.  I don’t feel anymore pain from it, however, my toenail is still dark red like yours in that picture above.  How long will it take for the redness to go away?  If possible, can you also tell me what caused the redness?

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        • You have to trim your nails regularly because they are growing. Basically, you have to wait until the injured area grows all the way out and you’ve trimmed off all the injured part. Sometimes your body can reabsorb some of that blood, but if it’s really dark red or black under the nail, you have to wait until that is grown out for it to go away.

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  17. Omg!I was searching for a solution to this on google and found your article,in addition to all these other stories.lol.I’m not alone!lol.I’m from the caribbean btw.i damaged my toe when I was walking home from my college,and I slipped and slammed toes first into a slab of concrete.the result?4 sprained toes and one,with the nail 3/4 ripped off at an odd angle.needless to say when I saw the mangled,bloody mess I got the cold sweats,I shivered,my vision blurred,and I passed out.lol.the men in my life(brother,dad,boyfriend)weren’t sympathetic either.even the doctor who saw me,was asking why I passed out in public. it took a few months for it to heal.I couldn’t wear sneakers to excercise,couldn’t wear my heels,got in trouble cuz I couldn’t wear open toed shoes for my labs..painful to get around..and now that its all healed and I’m back to working out,a few days ago while excercising I bumped my foot and the same toenail is now ripped in the same place as before but this time 3/4 the way ACROSS.I wanted some advice as to how to treat this as I now swim,hike and do insanity workouts..it doesn’t hurt too much but I’m afraid of aggravating it..

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  18. I am going threw the same thing, pushing a planter on the deck that was too heavy to pick up..Pushed it with my foot and it slipped and tore the toe nail all the way back.i was in shock..It was bleeding so bad..called Er and asked them what to do as I am on blood thinner..She said to put presser on it and hold it for five min..Finally got the thing to stop bleeding and the pain OMG..I have Lyme disease and have pain but this was horrible.. I cleaned it up with Peroxide and did that two times yesterday..Put a lot of clean paper towels folded in half and large white taped i had from something ..And wrapped it so that the paper towel would not rip my toe off more..I cleaned it and was so scared to pull on the paper towel but it was fine, did not pull it off..It is only on my toe by a prayer..I am sure once it starts growing it will fall off nothing to hold it on but a edge….I am not sure if I should go to the Dr or not..?I had some antibiotics I am taking and hope that works to keep infection down..I am afraid if I go to the Dr he will just make i worst by pulling it off.I am on blood thinner and do not want it to start bleeding again.. I had to figure out a way to get in the tub with out getting it wet..I got in and then put the water in..Did what I could do and then let the water out and got out of the tub every carefully.. Is it better to leave the toe nail on or have the Dr left it off..I am in so much pain now do not need more..Thanks I did the same thing you did so maybe mine will mend..Cannot wear shoes or even flip flops..I think I might have sprained it too..Wrapped the foot too..Man I need to be more careful..

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  19. Thank you for posting this! I had hiked downhill with my hiking boots and had some “blue” big toes from the bruising. Then the next day, I stubbed my right big toe and the toenail came off! Ouch! So I kept the nail on,wrapped it up, applied ice and elevated it. I will look for those gel toe protectors you mentioned. How long did it take for your toenail to grow back? Thanks.

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  20. I just ripped my.toenail about an hour ago and oh the pain, it is still.connected but didnt know what to do, I saw your comment and.I’m.so.glad I read it before heading to the Er or yanking.it off, it still hurts but I just left it alone,.I.will now attempt to clean it and hope I.can sleep. Thanks for your input made.me feel better…..

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  21. I finally had to go to the Dr pain too much..He said my toe nail was rip to the cuticle and it would not heal that way..With the toe nail just laying on the bed, it might get bacteria infection..And would not heal right to say it could get rip off the rest of the way if I caught it on something. Then I would really be in trouble, I am glad I got it over with ..It was painful that night after he took the toe nail off,but the next day when I changed the bandage it was not as bad as I thought it was going to be..It is a week today and feeling so much better..Bandage to stay on for 2 weeks and then I go back..I have antibiotic meds to put on it and then cover with Band-aid..I at lest no it will heal and I do not have to worry about ripping it the rest of the way off..Mine just could not be save..It was to far off the toe and just hanging there..Also the foot Dr said not to keep putting peroxide on it like I did..To clean it once time with peroxide and then antibiotics meds, the rest of the time..Putting peroxide on it keeps it from healing..It is very important to clean it good with peroxide the first time but that is it..I hope this helps someone that the to nail is just to far gone..I wanted so to save but there was nothing to save..IT was gone the night I ripped it to the cuticle ..

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  22. Ok so I recently had an incident similar to yours but I wasnt able to push it down back completely so now its a little higher then normal and I don’t knw what to do exactly from this point I have cleaned it every day since the incident but I don’t know what to do anymore and now when I walk on my foot I feel a little pressure in my toe should I go to the doctor or let it do its cycle?

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  23. I also opened a door on my toe. It knocked the toenail back; twisted it. Blood above, blood below. I didn’t wash it off. Went home and found a very large clear plastic Pepsi bottle (empty) and cut the end off; cut more off the top part and folded it back so it wouldn’t dig into my ankle, and held this “tongue flap” down with duct tape. Then I duct taped the back of the bottle to my ankle as if it were a gladiator sandal. It works great. The dogs can’t jump on my foot and if I forget, I won’t ram my toe into anything. it’s a huge clear plastic bubble. Maybe in a couple days I’ll take it off and wash my toe off. (I can see the toenail is still there; the top half is all purple, but the bottom half is OK, and it’s all more-or-less flat, not that I could do much about it if it weren’t.) Blood has worked so well to heal and clean for so many thousands of years, I’m not going to interfere with it at all. if an infection seems to be setting in, I’ll take penicillin on schedule for a day.

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    • To clarify — I put my foot, still wearing a sandal, in the bottle, so it’s a huge clear plastic cast. The sandal along with the bubble keep anything from bumping that toe. I guess it won’t be easy going to bed with it on, but I’m going to try!

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  24. super awesome!! i was already well on my way with all the other pieces (like just wrapping it up and tightening it down and attempting not to think about it until it stops pounding), but i didn’t know about these gel things. awesome. now i can run again. mine was a total freak accident too. lol. but i figured someone else had to have done it and posted a blog about it! thank you!!

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  25. Question. When were you able to run on it? When did it eventually fall off? (I am currently training for Cross Country) I’m taking today completely off. Hoping to run tomorrow….. and I have a Triathlon Saturday! Hopefully I can compete…. I need to race.

    I ripped my entire big toe nail off when forcing a row boat into the water it hit my toe nail with an upper thrust under the nail.

    Thank you!!!

    Diana

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  26. I’m pretty sure I had toenail fungi and then injured it causing it to come off the bed then finally detached at the bottom slowly little by little for days now that it’s off I wonder if it will ever grow back now I notice that there’s a small black area forming on top of area where the bail should be growing, is that normal?

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    • If it were my toenail, I’d just clip the loose part way down until the nail is ready to fall off on its own. I wouldn’t force it, the nail bed doesn’t need more trauma!

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  27. oh, you cracked me up here. a few hours ago, I took the kids bowling and, while wearing flip-flops, opened a door which somehow caught my left big toenail and tore it off, horizontally halfway down, with a little still attached. We’d just gotten there, so we couldn’t go home for me to deal with the lovely mess – my next steps nearly perfectly matched yours, avoiding home for hours and having a darling little one (4 year old, not a puppy) who has a habit of stepping on it. my husband has the heebie-jeebies so bad he can’t think about it, but I’m tolerating it a little better ;) thanks for the laughs – its nice to know I’m not the only one this clumsy.

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  28. I had a freak accident friday night i tripped over my sons bike in the dark and the frame went through my tennis shoe and slammed my nail completely off my left big toe. Wanted to vomit so bad from the pain. But i kinda think i sprained my toes also and the whole toe is still really painful. Thanks for the advice.

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