It is possible to heal an ingrown toenail without surgery. Dedication to the task and persistence are necessary since it can take 3 to 6 months to get lasting improvements. Anyone who has felt the pain and discomfort of an ingrown toenail will likely be ready to do almost anything for an immediate solution. Luckily, there are some simple techniques that can bring quick relief from the discomfort caused by an ingrown toenail. In cases where it’s not clear whether a surgical procedure wound be the most appropriate choice, there is still hope that a more natural approach can be effective. The main benefit of a non-surgical approach is that it preserves the integrity of the tissues and avoids possible complications.
It is important to note the drawbacks of using surgery to treat an ingrown toenail. First, it permanently disfigures the structures of the great toe by either removing the entire nail or removing a piece of it. There is a recovery period after the surgery that involves pain and immobility. Surgery is not a quick fix for an ingrown toenail, and there is very likely going to be just as much pain after the surgery as there was before the surgery if not more. Surgery is not guaranteed to work, and sometimes the procedure needs to be repeated. There is some controversy in the conventional medical community concerning the most effective surgical method for this condition.
The main problem of an ingrown toenail is that a sharp corner at the top of the nail penetrates the skin. Secondary issues can often include signs of infection and inflammation such as swelling, redness, warmth, pain, and reduced functioning of the toe and foot. The severity of the ingrown toenail will dictate the degree to which the following therapies need to be included. In general, all of the components will are needed to a lesser or greater extent depending on the particular situation. There are many potential incentives for the non-surgical treatment of an ingrown toenail. By addressing the deepest causes of the problem, natural treatments can possibly prevent future problems as well as reduce current symptoms.
There are five goals to the non-surgical treatment strategy that need to be considered:
1) Comfort and protection of the great toe on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute basis is of the highest importance.
The first priority is to make the toe as comfortable as possible at all times throughout the day and to avoid hitting it or otherwise causing further trauma. This can include the use of open toed sandals or flip-flops to avoid possible contact between the affected toe and and the inside of a regular shoe. It is likely that comfortable footwear such as flip-flops will need to be worn exclusively for the 3 to 6 month healing period. The importance of making the toe comfortable cannot be overstated. For mild cases of ingrown toenail, simply changing to better fitting shoes may be all that is necessary. For those with a more severe condition changing to comfortable footwear will be the crucial first step to recovering the health of the toe, no pun intended.
Prolonged standing needs to be avoided at all costs, and sitting, light walking, or light exercise should be observed as much as possible. If one’s job requires standing all day it may be best to make arrangements with the employer for more frequent sitting breaks, taking some time off work, or simply finding a new position that requires less standing. Even having the surgical procedure would require a few weeks off work, so there is nothing lost by taking time off work in order to realize the possibility of avoiding surgery.
It may be preferable to leave the toe open to the air at times since a tight bandage or ill fitting footwear will usually cause swelling and heat build-up which can promote an infection. Though a light bandage or band-aids with cotton balls can help to keep the toe clean during outdoor activities. Laying down with the foot elevated can help relieve swelling and pain that occurs from prolonged standing and walking.
Comfortable foot wear such as sandals or flip-flops
Light gauze bandage and tape
Bandaids and cotton balls
A job that requires fewer hours of prolonged standing
2) Infection control and soaking the toe to keep it clean.
An ingrown toenail creates a wound that is constantly being re-injured. It makes an open hole in the skin that can provide easy entry for pathogens from the environment to colonize local tissues and possibly even the bloodstream. For an otherwise healthy person, the immune system can usually prevent sepsis during the healing process. However, people with a compromised immune system or who are otherwise chronically ill may be more susceptible to a systemic infection. Of course, a severe infection would require a more aggressive approach such as a visit to the doctor to obtain a prescription for oral antibiotics. Though for all but the very worst cases of ingrown toenail, infection control can often be handled more conservatively.
Soaking the affected foot once or twice per day in a warm water epsom salt bath is an excellent way to keep the toe clean and to relieve discomfort and pain. After the foot is soaked, the toenail will become soft and it will be easier to manipulate the toe and gently lift the sharp corner of the nail so that it is not deeply penetrating the skin. The affected toe should not be allowed to get overly dry because this will cause the skin to crack and bleed. It is also advisable to keep the toe from getting too moist since it will become more prone to infection, swelling, and pain.
Topical applications of a liquid herbal tincture such as Retinal K from Health Concerns can have a beneficial effect. Other types of topical compounds can also be useful including colloidal silver liquid or gel, Neosporin, or other over-the-counter creams and gels.
Epsom Salt in warm water (several tablespoons of Epsom Salt per gallon of water)
Foot soaking bucket
Resinall K Liquid from Health Concerns
Colloidal silver liquid or gel
Neosporin topical over-the-counter antibiotic gel
3) Growing the nail long so that it does not cut into the skin.
The reason why an ingrown toenail may take months to heal is because toenails grow so slowly. A short nail will allow the sharp corner to continuously lacerate the soft flesh of the toe. If the nail is allowed to grow long, then eventually the corner of the nail will grow out past the wounded part of the toe and the wound will be allowed to heal and close itself. For this reason, it is important to avoid cutting the toenail shorter at any time during the healing period. Cutting the toenail may feel like an attractive option because it will seem to immediately remove the sharp nail corner from the hole that it has produced in the skin. Unfortunately, the shortened nail is highly likely to make a new cut into the skin further down on the toe. This will result in a more prolonged healing time because the toenail will need to grow even longer before it can extend past the wounds.
4) General health measures to keep the immune system strong.
Natural medicine works because it seeks to identify and treat the deepest causes of illness. Sometimes an ingrown toenail is simply the result of physical issues such as poorly fitting shoes. However more often than not there are other factors involved. For example, overwork and stress can promote many different kinds of diseases. Poor dietary and lifestyle habits can also take their toll on the body in many ways. Nutritional deficiencies can also be part of the reason for poor health and slow healing wounds. For people who are suffering with a chronic illness in addition to an ingrown toenail, maybe it is time to address these underlying conditions in a more meaningful way.
Creating a foundation for health is a big part of the healing process. Eating a nourishing diet that contains a variety of whole foods including red meats, poultry, healthy fats, eggs, fish, brightly colored vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits is essential. Avoiding all processed foods as well as those food products which are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates such as sweets, soft drinks, snack foods, and fast foods is also a healthy practice. Getting eight hours of quality sleep each night is necessary for healing. Regular exercise and the avoidance of unhealthy habits such as the overuse of alcohol, coffee, drugs, and tobacco will go a long way towards recovery from any disease process.
Many people can benefit from taking nutritional supplements In times of stress and disease, the body may need more vitamins and minerals than normal in order to heal a wound. Here is a list of nutrients that are important for healing the skin and nails, as well as supporting the health of the immune system and other organ systems. They seem to be particularly appropriate for those who are experiencing an ingrown toenail.
Zinc plus copper
Homeopathic medicines can be useful for improving overall health and symptomatic relief. Here is a list of homeopathic medicines that may be helpful for people with an ingrown toenail:
Homeopathic Silicea (Silica) 30C – indicated for unhealthy skin and nails
Homeopathic Arnica Montana 30C – indicated for trauma and injuries, can help with sleeping when ingrown toenail discomfort causes waking
Homeopathich Hepar Sulph Calcarea 30C – indicated for slowly healing wounds that have a tendency to suppurate
Seek help from your local naturopath or natural health oriented practitioner for assistance in determining which nutritional supplements and homeopathic medicines are right for you.
5) Psychological component to healing the great toe.
In her book Heal Your Body, Lousie Hay says that an ingrown toenail can be an indication that “We have worry and guilt about our right to move forward.” For those individuals where this situation seems like it may apply, she suggests thinking the positive affirmation “It is my Divine right to take my own direction in life. I am safe. I am free.”
Dr. David Zeoli, ND
DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this article is meant to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any medical condition. Information on this website is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for advice from your own doctor. If you think that you have an ingrown toenail or are experiencing any other health problem, please visit your doctor to get an examination, diagnosis, and proper treatment. Some individuals may require surgery or drug medications in order to cure their ingrown toenail. Please consult your doctor or other trained health professional before trying any of the therapies mentioned in this article. Information and statements regarding supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease.