Can Nail Abrasion Relieve Ingrown Toenail Pain?

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In 1990, researchers from Nagoya City University Medical School in Japan conducted an experiment to determine if thinning the nail could effectively treat ingrown toenails.

At first, it sounds…well, questionable.  That is until you consider that there is more than just one cause of the condition.  It doesn’t make much sense that this would help with the kind of ingrown nail resulting from a nail spicule puncturing the skin.  That is probably more an issue of improper trimming.  But what about highly curved nails?  Often, highly curved nails, especially on the big toe, are also thick and hard.  What if they were thinner and flexible?  They may still grow downward into the skin, but would the area still be painful and pressure sensitive?

In the study, doctors treated 33 ingrown toe nails on 22 patients.  Using a skin grinder with a steel bar, they filed down the entire surface of the nail except for the nail edge until the nail became flexible.  All patients reported pain relief soon following the procedure.  As needed, the procedure was repeated to keep the nail thin and flexible.  The average repetition needed was 2.9 times over the course of 16 months.

The report from this study shows that over 20% of the patients needed no other types of treatment during the observation period of over a year.  For those patients, their nail curvature gradually corrected itself as the nail grew and the procedure was repeated.  The conclusion of the trial was that nail abrasion is most effective in treating ingrown toenail for those with highly curved nails.

One interesting note (not in the study abstract) is that the nail of the big toe completes a full growth cycle in about 12 to 18 months.  This is also the time frame that nail bracing takes to correct overly curved toe nails.  This correlation may indicate potential for nail thinning as a conservative ingrown toenail treatment option, but that is a topic for doctors to figure out.

Now, are you likely to find a podiatrist ready to grind down your ingrown toenails?  Probably not in the United States.  There are undoubtedly some risks associated with this approach and uncertainty in results.  Doctors understandably prefer to play it “safe” with ingrown toenail surgery since it is the standard accepted treatment with predictable results (and insurance coverage).

Resources:

“Nail Abrasion:  A New Treatment for Ingrown Toe-nails.”  Department of Dermatology, Nagoya City University Medical School, Japan.  Maeda N., Mizuno N., Ichikawa K.