Black Toenail Photos

Getting a Black Toenail

Black Toenail
Black Toenail. Sarah Walsh © 2007 used with permission

A walker or runner can get a black toenail when the toenail bed is injured. This can happen whenever your shoes allow your foot to slip forward in the shoe, forcing the toes to hit the toebox. It is also known as a subungual hematoma, meaning bleeding under the toenail. The black color from the blood pooled under the nail.

The key to preventing a black toenail is getting shoes that fit well, without giving too much or too little room. If they have too much room, your foot slides around inside the shoe and there is the chance of bruising your toenails. But shoes that are too tight can also press on the toenail and result in a black toenail. You need shoes that fit exactly right once your feet have swollen during a long run or walk.

You should also lace your shoes to prevent your foot from sliding forward in the shoe. This is simple to do, see the diagram at the link.

Warning: Next photos are realistic and unpleasant.

Black Toenail Blister After Draining

Black Toenail After Draining
Black Toenail after Draining. Sarah Walsh © 2007 used with permission

Black toenails are black because of blood underneath the toenail, where you have developed a bruise or blister. Sometimes the amount of blood is enough to lift the toenail up, and draining can release the pressure. Draining is often done by heating a needle red hot (to sterilize it), poking a small hole in the nail, and pressing to express the excess fluid. This can be done by your physician. If you have diabetes or circulatory problems in your feet, you should have it done by a physician to minimize the risk of infection.

This photo was sent to us by reader Sarah. It shows her black toenail after it had been drained by a physician, two weeks after the injury. If your toenail is only discolored and not raised and painful, you do not need to have it drained.

It's important to note that a black toenail could also be due to the development of melanoma, a type of skin cancer, under the nail. You should see a doctor promptly if the black color does not improve, particularly if it appears as a streak rather than a discoloration of the entire nail.

Warning: Next photo is unpleasant.

Black Toenail - Losing the Toenail

Black Toenail after it has fallen off
Black Toenail has Fallen Off. Sarah Walsh © 2007 used with permission

You will eventually lose the toenail after you get a black toenail.Sarah's toenail was shed a month and a half after the trauma. The black toenails I've had took weeks to begin to detach. The replacement toenail slowly grows and pushes away the dead black toenail. The new toenail often grows in thin and grooved. It will take several months to have a normal-looking toenail.

Preventing Black Toenails


Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatments for Athletes, John Vonhof. Wilderness Press, 2006.

Subungual Hematoma, American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, accessed 4/4/2016.​

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