Tell Me Tuesday: DIY Toenail Surgery

post race toes


Reader advisory: this post is fairly gross because
1. My feet, while quite useful, are not very attractive. I have not had a pedicure since late April, I think.
2. And when I shoot them close-up to show all their blisters and flaws, they're downright disgusting.

Consider yourself warned.

I had very few nail issues while training for Ironmother. The second toe of my right foot, as usual, was the martyr of the 10, and was constantly sore. Also, due to the fact that I've lost and regrown that puppie about, oh, 17 times at this point, the nail was thicker than a dictionary.

But 26.2 miles at the end of an already long day brought on some damage. Fortunately, I didn't feel much pain (in my feet) until after the race, but then it was all I could concentrate on: a huge blister under my left big toenail, a few smaller blisters on other feet, and on Mr. Purple Martyr, a blister under the nail, a blister around the nail, and a very angry nail to boot.

It took me a few days before I could even think about touching them to relieve the pressure. But my kids, not exactly feathers, seemed to be stomping on my flip-flopped feet more than usual, and I was not very nice to them when they did. So I popped all the blisters that were not under a nail bed, and there was excessive launching of liquid. Since this is a gross post, I'll just spill all the details: I popped one on Tuesday night. Total geyser. It was still sore, so I went at it again on Wednesday night. Mini-geyser. I think I lost a pound just with that one.

And then it was time to get serious. Here's how I popped my under-nail blisters.

Soaked both feet in soapy water. Helpful tip: do not make the water too hot. That is just as painful as a 80-pound child on your ailing feet.
1. Soak both feet in soapy water. Helpful tip: do not make the water too hot. That is just as painful as a 80-pound child on your ailing feet.

Also: you may not be able to tell from this pic, but I had *serious* cankles and fat feet after the race for about 10 days. I slept with 110% calf sleeves on, but that didn't help my feet, which felt as wide as they are long. Serious dinner rolls. I couldn't hack the socks because my toenails hurt so much—way too much pressure on them. I tried to keep my feet up as much as possible, but I sleep on my side and this mother thing kept getting in the way...anyway, I digress.

Sterilize a safety pin or needle.
2. Sterilize a safety pin or needle.
3. Then take a deep breath, and head on under. I had to go in several times to release all the liquid/pressure. So gross, but ahhh.
3. Then take a deep breath, and head on under. I had to go in several times to release all the liquid/pressure. So gross, but ahhh.

I poked around a little under Mr. PM, but I couldn't find any relief, so let him just keep throbbing. Plus, that little procedure was enough for one night for me. 

Two days later, I was at my Mom's house,  where I took a bath. (I barely fit in the bathtub at my house; I use it only for ice baths, when I'm going to be uncomfortable anyway. When I win the lottery, we're doing a total bathroom remodel so I can have a large tub where I can actually straighten my legs and recline just slightly.) I sat in there for quite some time with both feet submerged, and then, of course, I had to inspect my feet. I realized I could just rip the horse hoof on Mr. PM right off, so I did. Little to no pain with that situation and, fortunately, I decided not to photograph it for you.

Here's Mr. PM, about 10 days later. Look at that beautiful, tiny bloom of a toenail...guessing grossness will set back in when I start running regularly again.
But here's Mr. PM, about 10 days later. Look at that beautiful, tiny bloom of a toenail...guessing grossness will set back in when I start running regularly again.


And this is the nail that was operated on. It's dark underneath, but painfree. Guessing I might lose that nail, but not 100% sure.
And this is the nail that was operated on. It's dark underneath, but doesn't hurt a lick. Guessing I might lose that nail, though not 100% sure.

And that, dear readers, concludes this tour through my Ironmother toenails.

Now you tell us: what do you do when you have a blister or other issue? Do you dig in yourself? 


26 responses to “Tell Me Tuesday: DIY Toenail Surgery

  1. I am just not a big advocate for DIY surgery on toes/ingrown toenails. I am sure that most of the time there will not be an issue. However, it just seems like you are bound to create a serious problem or might be doing long term damage to the toes/toenails, etc.

  2. I will be genuinely motivated with the producing skills in addition to while using the construction to the weblog. Is a new settled matter or maybe did you modify them on your own? Anyhow remain within the excellent quality writing, it can be rare to discover an awesome web site exactly like it these days.

  3. I just grossed my boys out this week with showing them a toenail flapping over that I removed after a warm shower. They’re 18 and 10 and do all sorts of gross stuff but my toenail falling off sent them over the edge. Pfft! I’ve always surgerized my own feet.

  4. LOVE IT. I’ve been cutting out ingrowns for years, and popping blisters. Very gratifying, in a super gross way. I’ve never had a blister under my toenail, but will file this away for reference! 😉

  5. Please… I’ve been doing all my own surgeries [including cutting out ingrown toenails which affects the first three toes on both feet] since I was about 11 years old. I slather my feet with store brand and therefore cheaper “Noxema” to keep them from looking so much like runners feet.

  6. I had never popped a blister until last October when I went on a girls trip to Mexico. I was training for my first marathon and tried running on the beach. Of course, I was not used to running on the beach and my toes did not like it. I got blisters after just 3 miles. My dear friend and roommie taught me how to pop my blisters and I have to say…I love it! The relief and the ooze!

  7. I would rather talk about ANY other TMI topic than my yuck-a-doodle toes! Thanks for sharing, tho’. Getting ready to lose one on my right foot…Keeping them painted dark helps with my avoidance therapy approach!

  8. My toes looked just like yours, and one was so painful. Nail very thick. I finally went to a podiatrist and found out I had toenail fungus in about 7 toenails. 🙁 I couldn’t tolerate the oral medication (terbinafine) which is hard on the liver, so I’ve been doing laser treatment since Feb. My second toe which was so thick is now growing out normally, and the others have stopped cracking. Damaged toes are more susceptible to the fungus. It will end up costing about $1000 out of my pocket by the time it’s all gone (takes many months for complete nail to grow out) – but way worth it. Good luck!

  9. About a year ago I went through the same thing. I think I lost 6 toenails. I’m sure you’ll probably loose that big toenail.
    Good times my friend, good times.

  10. I’ve had terrible feet since I started running in 1995, with breaks in 2010 and 2012 while pregnant (how great it was to have normal looking feet!) My second toe on my left foot is always my martyr. She used to be black all the time, and I would just let the nail fall off. I tried popping, but I hate feet to begin with, so I was always too squeamish to do it. Regular old blisters? They get the popping. Unless it’s the hybrid callus/blister also on my left foot, big toe. There’s no penetrating that sucker.

  11. I have a blister (END of toe, not under nail. Thank. Gawd.) but I was just reading about treatment and prevention on Runner’s World site. It said to use alcohol and NOT matches/lighter because you’ll get carbon particles in your skin.

    Which is totally good for me because – you know – also makes it somewhat less likely that I’ll set something (me?) on fire.

    Anyway, you’re amazing. I’m not too squeamish, but I’m not sure I could go under a nail like that on myself!

  12. Damn, you are brave, both to put the pictures up and to do all that self surgery! The last half I ran (which has been over a year ago – been dealing with chronic injury in my left foot!) it was an unseasonably warm day and my feet swelled a lot. My shoes were fine all during training, but I think the pounding combined with swelling made my toenails crash repeatedly into the tops of my shoes during the race. That night I could feel my heartbeat in two of the toenails on my right foot!! I read up about the surgery where you puncture your toenail from the top (the thing I read said to use a paperclip) but waited it out and after two days, it was better. Then I lost one of the toenails; the other one hung on until one had grown out underneath.

    I am only managing about eighteen miles a week right now, but my biggest problem (besides inflamed tendon at the left fifth metatarsal, excessive supination of my left foot, left arch pain, and lingering left PF) is calluses and dry skin. I get a pedicure once a month and really try to maintain it between trips, but between running and wearing Birkenstocks when I am not running, my feet take a beating and usually look kind of rugged even if my pedicure is only a few days old.

  13. Agreed… You are so cool!!! Also, my mom has feet so bad, shes been turned down for pedicures. So this is nothing!
    Makes me feel better about my one tiny blister I got. I have new shoes and thought I was fitted wrong. I guess that’s not the case 🙂

  14. I pop my blisters under my toenails all the time. I don’t soak my feet or anything. I just take a pin and poke around until I find the blister. Then after popping it, I push down on my nail to get out all of the fluid. Yes it is gross but it relieves the pressure and after doing this so many times, I think I am just used to any pain that comes with the diy method.

  15. Left second toe here! I just use the safety pin approach and it works every time. I’ve only lost the nail once thankfully! Thanks for posting this!! I’m not alone!!

  16. Haha! I’m so glad you shared this. I certainly have not completed an Ironman, but all my running has left me with some icky-ish toes. In a world that cherishes poshly painted sandal worthy toes all summer, I often make people squeamish with my missing toenails, black toenails, blisters, and callouses. Kudos to you for baring yours and helping us all remember what badges of bravery they are. 🙂

  17. I’m an avid toenail home surgeon! No matter what I do, I get blisters on my right second toe. No. Matter. What. I don’t think I’ve had a toenail there for 3 years. I use nail clippers to burst the bubble. My three sons love it. Ugh.

  18. I rarely get blisters, but when I do I pop them myself right away. I can’t stand the pressure. I then treat with lavender oil and they heal up super fast.

  19. I do self-surgery on blisters on feet/toes, or if they are reachable from the edge of the nail. I would not have the guts to dig under the nail! I use a needle sterilized with alcohol, and sterilize the area too.

  20. I ALWAYS lose 2-3 nails after a Marathon. Though, no matter how hard I train, I never lose one during the process. Race day heat & intensity just pound my piggies. During the races, I don’t feel them happening…but almost right afterwards, within hours, I can pinpoint the (un)lucky ones. I agree, the pain is indescribable! The only relief I get is from draining them…with the Sterile-Safety-Pin Method (SSP). When they are on my skin/toes (also drain the SSP method & quickly apply Cortisone Creme & a tight band aid. It seems to help them NOT refill ASAP.

  21. Such good timing! Yesterday, I just went digging around looking for tips on avoiding toenail and blister issues and thought – I can’t post a picture of my feet….and then you did and I’m thankful! I’m training for RAGNAR in August and I lose my toenails every year and have pretty major blister issues (I have bunions – what makes you feel older than writing that btw?). It seems that I get blisters more in the heat and humidity….could that be true? Does anyone have favorite tips and tricks? Favorite socks? I have gone up a full shoe size in hopes of avoiding – no luck.

  22. FYI, instead of going under the nail with your needle, you could use it like a drill and go directly through the nail. That’s what I do with my patients in the clinic.

    My feet are my number one trouble zone. Right now, as I read your column, I’m sitting with both feet on top of a heating pad, wearing my Feetures PF compression socks (they are toeless!). I’ve had a stress fracture, plantar fasciitis, a heel spur, and now arthritis/bone spurs in my big toe and on the top of my foot. I’ve become quite close with my podiatrist, sadly. I wear orthotics when I run and Danskos when I work. I roll my arches on a Nubz ball. I ice them with a Moji Ice sleeve. I’ve undergone shockwave therapy for my heel spur (it worked!). I’ve had massage and ultrasound for my feet. Now I’m working with a trainer to help correct some biomechanical issues–hoping to lessen the load on that arthritic toe!

    But I do get a monthly pedicure. It keeps my feet happy and pretty. After that Ironman, you deserve one!

  23. Eek – I didn’t even know that under nail blisters were a possibility! Granted, my longest run to date has only been 17 miles, but I’ve been lucky to never get a blister. I did develop a cracked nail right before my last half marathon, and stupidly decided to cover it with medical tape so that it didn’t break off during the run. The toe next to that one actually has no feeling at all (the unfortunate results of Morton’s neuroma surgery), so as it turns out, I had no idea that during the race, the edge of the tape came loose and was rubbing all the skin off of the numb toe. At least I never felt any pain, but I had quite the gnarly open sore for several days. That’s as gruesome as my toe stories get…for now. I still have the rest of marathon training to get through! BTW, Dimity, if I didn’t think you were badass already, this definitely confirms it 🙂

  24. I always dig the under nail blisters out-they are so painful! The other blisters I’ve always been able to leave. Actually growing out a nail right now, same second toe as you, but on the left foot. From a distance you can’t really tell either, but then again I don’t have my toenails painted. And mine always seem to pop just by using the digger thing on the nail clippers. All I have to do is lift the nail and blessed relief. Awesome post. No one ever wants to talk toenails!!

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