Why Is My Toenail Black?!

Posted by on Thursday, March 1st, 2012

It is a disconcerting sight, if you look down and see that one of your toenails is black. It is especially alarming if you are quite sure that you are not wearing black nail polish.

So why on earth would your toenail turn black? Is it in a bad mood? Is it trying to make a fashion statement? Has it just been overtaken by an angry gremlin who wants to scare you?

In most cases, the answer is quite simple and nothing to be alarmed about; it’s not like you’ve just contracted C. difficile or something truly ugly like that. Generally, a blackened toenail is a sign that your poor little big toe has undergone some kind of trauma and a bruise or blood blister forms under your toenail. The black color comes from blood that has pooled under your nail.

Causes If you’ve had something happen to your toe, perhaps if you’ve dropped a table on it (yes, I did that once at a catering job), then you can expect to see a black toenail in a day or two. However, black toenails are most common in runners and serious walkers who are repeatedly striking the ground hard with their toes. For some people, a black toenail is a sign that their running shoes or socks are too tight. Remember, you really should make sure there’s about a half inch of space between the top of your toes and the front end of the shoe.

Many hardcore runners will find themselves with a black toenail just from hard training, though, even if their shoes fit perfectly. Repeated stress on your toe as you land on it over and over will catch up with you after a while. If you’re training for a marathon, don’t be surprised if you’re greeted one day by a black toenail on your foot. It’s just part of the deal. This is especially likely if you run downhill often, where your toe is absorbing a lot of force, or if your running in hot weather when your feet will swell.

What if you don’t have any of these things going on in your life, though? No tables dropped on your toe, you’re more likely to be caught relaxing on a beach than running on pavement, and your shoes fit perfectly. If that’s the case, then you should see a doctor–it’s possible you might have a melanoma forming.

The Treatment For garden variety black toenails caused by trauma, bad-fitting shoes or running, the best thing to do is just leave it alone. It may hurt for a day or so, like an ordinary bruise. If it’s distractingly painful, you can take some ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but you don’t want to down that stuff like candy at every little twinge. After a while, a new toenail will begin to grow under the old nail. The blackened one will begin to loosen and eventually fall off. Don’t try to hurry it along–first, the old toenail is acting as a protective shield for your tender nailbed until the new one is long enough to cover a good deal of it. Second, that old nail is still attached to some skin, so the only way to get it off is to really rip it. This hurts a LOT and bleeds, too. I can guarantee this because, well, I’ve done it.


If you’re really brave, and really annoyed by this blood under your toenail, you can take sterilize a needle or paper clip in a flame, pierce the skin, and drain out the blood yourself. Jeff Galloway has precise instructions for doing this. If you’re really brave. Like Jeff Galloway. If you’re me,  you just sit back and enjoy the process of watching your toenail slowly loosen and fall off.

Avoiding It As we said above, you can avoid blackened toenails by making sure your shoes fit properly, but if you’re a serious runner, you probably can’t avoid it. In that case, don’t worry about it and be prepared for people to scream if you’re wearing open toed shoes and they happen to notice your threatening, dangerous black toenail. Or you can paint all your other toenails black and make it all look like a plan.

If you keep suffering from black toenails, or don’t feel your black toenail is the result of the common causes, don’t hesitate to contact us at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine LaiDr. Nadia Levy, and Dr. Ryan Minara 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.

14 Responses to “Why Is My Toenail Black?!”

  1. Gina Armstrong says:

    I injured my big toenail years ago and had it taken off. It was fine for years and then last summer after I went on the medication for food fungus, it turned black and the nail seemed to slide around. (I am a major walker/exerciser) It seemed as if a new nail is underneath. Months have gone by and I haven’t done anything about it but now with spring and summer coming, I need to have something done with it. Should I have it taken off again by a podistrist or should I look into having it lasered off? It has been black since probably July, which is 8 or 9 months. Thank you

    • Kirsten says:

      Hi Gina–I think you should have a podiatrist look at it, just to make sure there’s nothing else going on under there. A podiatrist can also remove it in a safer way. Good luck–

  2. maria says:


    I have been becoming more active.since.the past months hence.been running more. I noticed one of my toenails is black now . I have been reading and apparently is quite normal? It didn’treally hurt much and I have had it for like two weeks now but now it’s hurting a little. Do you think I should go tk tthe doctor and get it check?

  3. abigail says:

    hi, my big toenail has been sored from tight shoes, and a part of the toe got black the most disturbing part is that the black part is no longer attached to the nailbed. What can i do to bring my toenail back to normal. Thanks

  4. Abbie says:

    hi im a dancer and im dancing on pointe for several hours a day. i showed my blackened toe to one of the demonstrators in the class and she casually told me it would fall off. i freaked out a bit about this but soon laughed it off. i know ballerinas toe nails fall off all of the time but i didnt think i was that serious about dancing that mine would. so im not entirely sure what to do about it. my mum booked me in for a physical next week. i know hes not a foot doctor but should i still show him my toe?

  5. adrian says:

    hi, my big toenail has been sored i was playing football then the other player from the oher team stept on my foot it was hurrting a lot and i dont know if i visit a doctor or see is it feels off?/

  6. Payal Biswas says:

    i was forever a lazy person. but off lately (about 6 months) i got into a job that makes me walk a hell lot. i wear flip flops as opposed to shoes as mentioned here, so i’m worried. its very worrisome as all the toenails on both my feet have turned black, in fact some nails are black all through. at first i thought maybe i hit on something, but u can’t possibly hit both your legs and all your toenails at once, right? honestly, i’ve never taken care of myself on these lines but these recent developments are freaking me out, especially cause a hell lot is happening to my feet (like i got a painful corn-like growth on the place at the base of my left foot near my ankle as well)
    i worried sick. please help.

  7. Sue says:

    I’ve got a black big toenail on my left foot for 2 months. It’s not painful at all. At first there was a very narrow black line on the left side edge, then it’s getting bigger and wider. I don’t run and walk a lot. The shoes I wore in the past 2 months make my feet feel a little damp. I don’t know what on earth is caused. What should I do now?Your help will be appreciated .

  8. Karrueche says:

    I have both of my pinky toes black and they dont hurt but as im looking at them and messing with them they feel “loose” should i be worried? or should i just leave it alone? and if i leave it alone, obviously, itll grown back BUT if i take off my nail how long do i wait till a new one arrives?

  9. kb says:

    Hi. I’ve had a blackness develop in my middle toenail for YEARS now. Don’t know if its anything to be worried about. But there has been a little bit of blackening around the skin where the nail begins…am I supposed to be panicking???

  10. geebee says:

    WARNING….Please don’t touch your toes with any “paper clip” or “pull your nail off” until you are checked for DIABETES….
    My sister lost her leg “doctoring” on just ONE of her toes…

  11. Erika says:

    Hi, I have 2 black pinky toes and a third black toe. I’m not a runner or hard core exerciser, but I work on my feet 5 days a week. I injured one toe before and it healed. The other three were not injured and I have tried filing them down to at least get their color back. Whatever it is, it’s really deep. Can anyone help me.

  12. KEC says:

    I found a bruise on my big toe (left) 3 months ago! I had no trauma which is why it surprised me. I am not a runner either.
    The “bruise” was around the base and left side of the nail. It grew and spread to half the nail and was brown/dark brown in colour.
    Then bits turned white and now (3 months later) it is coming away from the nail bed. The bruised area has not grown out though.
    It’s not infected…… Is it just a bruise or should I see my doctor?

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