Toenail Anatomy

Whether you realize it or not, toenails have more function than just providing a canvas for a splash of bright nail polish. Toenails are protective plates that guard your toes against injuries. The tops of toes are susceptible to injury, and with that protective nail on top of them, toes are less vulnerable to injuries and infections. Knowing the anatomy of toenails can help you care for them and know when it’s time to see a podiatrist about foot-related issues.

What Are the Parts of the Toe?

When looking at your feet, you might not realize just how many bones they have. The human foot is complex, housing 28 bones or almost a quarter of all your body’s bones. It also contains 30 joints as well as hundreds of tendons, ligaments, and muscles. The foot is also broken down into three categories: forefront, middlefoot, and hindfoot. You’ll find toes in the forefront. Each foot has 14 toe bones, two per big toe (hallux) and three in the other four. These bones are called phalanges.

How Does a Toenail Grow?

Image via Pixabay by chentusoul

You might notice that even though toenails grow, they do so much slower than fingernails. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, if you lose a fingernail, a new one takes about four to six months to grow back, while a toenail can take about 12 months. However, certain factors can affect its growth including aging, heredity, and poor circulation.

You might be able to stimulate your toenails to grow faster by improving the keratin infrastructure. Doing so can also help your hair grow since it’s also made of keratin. You can also try natural remedies that contain olive oil and coconut oil.

What Are Toenails Made Of?

The toenail grows out of the matrix, which is a little pocket that forms under the skin. It constantly creates new cells, lengthening the nails and forcing the old ones to get pushed together and out. Once these cells finally grow out of the matrix, they’re dead. As a result, it doesn’t when you trim your toenails. Although the nails don’t have any feeling, the layer of skin under the nails called the dermis has sensory nerve endings. When pressure is applied to your nails, it sends a signal to your brain.

Toenails consist of four major parts:

  • Root: Do toenails have roots? Technically, they do. This part of the nail appears as a white crescent and sits under the nail and skin.
  • Nail bed: This part contains blood vessels and nerves. It also produces melanin. When the nail root begins to grow the nail, the nail bed adds material to the nail’s underside to make the nail thicker.
  • Nail plate: This is the actual nail and is made out of translucent keratin. To help anchor it into the nail bed, the nail plate has grooves.
  • Cuticle: This is the waterproof barrier that lies between the nail plate and the skin of the toe.

How Do You Care for Toenails?

Just like fingernails, toenails need regular care. Not only is this important so your feet fit comfortably in shoes and sandals, but it can help you avoid problems such as ingrown toenails and fungal nail infections. To help care for your toenails, follow these steps:

  • Wash your feet daily. Use warm soapy water, and take the time to carefully wash your feet including around each toe. Dry your feet thoroughly, making sure to dry the area in between your toes.
  • Trim your toenails regularly. You don’t want your toenails to be too long and bump up areas inside your shoe. Remember that, unlike fingernails where you round the edges, toenails should be cut straight across. Doing so can help prevent ingrown toenails.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Make sure these shoes have enough room in the toe area. Avoid wearing narrow shoes that jam the toes together and high heels that place too much pressure on your toes.

Perhaps one of the most important ways to care for your toenails is to keep them healthy. Pedicures at a licensed facility are an excellent way to pamper your feet and prevent issues from arising. Along with pedicures, certain facilities also offer Keryflex nail restoration, which is a cosmetic way to manage fungal or damaged thick toenails. It uses high-quality synthetic resins that adapt to the movement of the toes and feet.

What Are Common Toenail Growth Problems?

Toenails aren’t exempt from encountering issues. Since they’re located in shoes for a prolonged time, toenails endure a lot of stress. Whether it involves shoving them in boots for most of the winter due to frigid Chicago weather conditions or stubbing them on furniture, toenail issues are common. Some common nail diseases include the following:

  • Fungal infections: One of the more common types of fungal infections is athlete’s foot, which usually results from a skin infection that moves on toward the nails. The nails might become thickened and yellow or brown.
  • Ingrown toenails: If you trim your toenails too short, especially on the sides of your big toes, you might incur an ingrown toenail. It can also occur due to pressure if you wear ill-fitting shoes. The toe becomes red and painful to the touch, and if it is infected, pus may drain from the area.
  • Koilonychia: This deformity features overly thin and fragile nails with a spoon-shaped appearance. Most cases are believed to be genetic, with anemia, hypothyroidism, and celiac disease as causes.
  • Nail-patellar syndrome: A genetic disorder also known as NPS, this syndrome has a range of severity. However, all patients have the same nail abnormalities.
  • Onychogryphosis: This general term refers to the thickening of toenails, and it’s sometimes called claw nail or ram’s horn nail. Even though this can affect all toenails, it typically occurs on the first or big toe.

If you have issues with your toenails or feet, you might need to seek medical attention. Dr. Schoene is a board-certified podiatrist who has more than 30 years of experience. As one of the few physicians in the country who is a podiatrist and athletic trainer, she knows what it takes to get you back on your feet pain-free. Reach out to her at one of the Chicago-area locations today.