Learn the best ways to deal with several common running-related injuries associated with your toes and toenails, including black toe nails, bunions, neuromas and more. Don't miss any more running than you have to!

Running and Common Toe and Toe Nail Injuries

 Toe Injuries are a common problem with running, as many runners deal with this type of foot pain on a regular basis. The toes have a critical function in running. Have you ever wondered why our feet were designed with five toes? Most of us don’t use them they way we use our fingers. We don’t brush our teeth with them. We don’t sip hot coffee while holding onto the coffee mug with them. We don’t open cans of pop or peel bananas with them. So why do we need to have toes, instead of unified mass of flesh at the tips of our feet?

 Even though our toes lack the dexterity of our fingers, we still use them to grip, hold, balance and provide leverage against body movements. The varying angles of our toes enable us to detect whether we are leaning too far forward or too far backward. Our toes also help us to know when we are turning or leaning. Even with thick-heeled running shoes our toes play an important role in keeping us upright and moving forward when we run.

 Not only are our toes important to us when we run, they also suffer a lot of abuse. There are a number of different kinds of injuries and foot pain that can occur in your toes. Below is a list of some of the most common injuries runners experience in their toes and the front of their feet, along with causes and remedies of these problems. For other foot injury problems you can use these links to find information about injuries affecting the tops of your feet, your heel/arch, or general injuries such as blisters and corns.

 Black Toenail

-          Description – Toenails are black, may be painful, may fall off

-          Causes – repeated pressure and impact on the toenail:

  • Could be too much downhill running,
  •  The shoe toe box is too big.
  • Bleeding under the toenail causes it to turn black.

-          Remedy – The blood needs to be released. You can try to do this yourself, if you dare. Better to have a doctor do it. In severe cases, if you don’t release the blood, the nail will likely eventually fall off. This is not painful or unhealthy, and the nail will grow back.


-          Description: A swelling near the bone connecting to the big toe that sticks out at the side

-          Causes: The big toe is angling in, overlapping the 2nd toe. As a result, the ball of the big toe grows larger to handle the weight distribution

  • This is not necessarily a problem unless it becomes painful

-          Remedy:

  • Unfortunately, you can’t undo this without surgery to trim it down.
  • You can, however, ease the pain.
    • Wear looser fitting shoes. This relieves the pressure on the wounded area. I knew a runner in college who cut a hole in the outside of his racing flats so the bunion would have nothing rubbing against it.
    • Bunion pads. These provide cushion, and can be purchased at many drug stores, or online at Amazon.com
    • Arch support can help alleviate the cause of the problem, by adjusting the position of the foot in the shoe.
    • In severe cases, or when the above methods do not provide enough relief, you may need to see a podiatrist

 Hammer Toes

-          Description: One or more toes won’t stay straight. Any toe but the big toe can become a hammer toe

-          Causes: Shoes that are too short. The tendons on the bottom of your toes have shortened and won’t stretch out again.

-          Remedy: - Wear shoes that are looser in the toes.


-          Description: A neuroma is a bundle of nerve endings whose covering has become inflamed. Usually described as a burning sensation between the toes, or like electricity shooting through the affected area. The pain is often characterized as “excruciating”. The pain can come and go, and there is no swelling or bumps associated with it.

-          Causes: This is a common problem for people who have a “loose foot”, i.e. there is too much movement between the metatarsals (bones that connect to the toes).

-          Remedy: There are a couple things you can try to reduce the pain:

  • Icing can bring down the swelling. Use a 10minutes on 10 minutes off method and repeat up to five times.
  • Try putting padding behind where the toes meet your foot. This is to take pressure of the neuroma. If you bend your toes back and press on the bottom of your foot with your thumb you can probably find “the spot”. Put the padding right behind that (towards the heel). You can use foam rubber or felt, about ¼” thick. Tape the padding to your foot or glue them into your shoes.
  • Although the neuroma won’t go away, because it is caused by problems in your foot structure, the padding should allow you to run without or with minimal pain.
  • If this is not enough, it is time to go to the podiatrist. The doctor may try a custom fitted padding, cortisone, or surgery. The good news on the surgery is that most people report that they are able to run again within 2-3 weeks of the surgery, which removes the neuroma.


Once again, many of these running-related injuries can be solved, or at least improved with properly fitting running shoes. In fact, I would go so far as to say that any time you experience a running-related injury, the first thing you should look at is your shoes. In particular, consider how long you have been running in them. Brand new shoes, and shoes that have over 500 miles on them are the two most common causes of all sorts of running injuries. For other foot injury problems you can use these links to find information about injuries affecting the tops of your feet, your heel/arch, or general injuries such as blisters and corns.