Most People Get It Wrong. So How Do You Cut Toenails?

cut toenails effectively

After seeing thousands of patients. A common problem is how to cut toenails properly.

As a result of poorly cut toenails, we see many ingrown toenails.

  • they can be sore if cut too short and
  • they can break, scratching other toes and causing cuts
  • they can wreak socks and other hoisery

The Cut Toenails Myths

Cutting toenails straight across?

We have been told countless times to cut straight across our toenails right?

This is OK in theory:

  • if your nails are long it is easier to keep the nail away from the skin
toenail cutting straight

Cutting down the sides of the nail?

Your toenails are not meant to be messed with. In the olden times they would have be used and broken but stayed quite short.

When we start to cut down the sides of the nail, the nail still has to grow out. If you left any small spike or rough edge then that will irritate the side of the nail skin and cause an ingrown toenail.

When you cut your nails down the sides and lift up the nail to try and "clear" under the nail actually you make the issue worse. Not too many people need the sides cleared out. When you lift the nail you can introduce fungus and bacteria- which then causes an infection of that area.

OK then, how do I cut toenails effectively?

Lets take my index finger where I have just just the nail (finger and toes are very similar- and easier to get to):

nail cutting

The nail has a little bit of white to the end. It doesn't have any fungus or thickening. But when we look at the side of the nail we can see something that determines the length of the nail:

nail cutting normal

The nail is exactly the same length as the skin around it. Not one part of the cutting has gone down the sides. All sides are equal:

nail cutting normal

So when I get my other index finger and vertically press around the nail, it can feel nail.

If my other index finger has to bend any other way then the nail is too long or too short:

In this case, my other index finger would be angled away from the finger and the nail would be too long.

In this case the other index finger would be angled towards to finger and the nail would be too short.

The main keys are this:

  • It is much better to have a toenail that is just a little bit too long than too short as you know the nail is not below the skin line
  • You might have to cut them more regularly
  • If you find that your nails are hitting the end of footwear then they might be too long or your shoes might be too small for you (remember you don't have the same feet as 10-20 years ago, they change)

But I can't get down to cut my toenails

Unfortunately, some people can not cut their toenails for many reasons:

  • can not physically get down to them
  • they are too thick
  • got problematic nails- like they ingrow no matter what

Some people get a family member to do their feet, get someone privately/ through a health clinic.

If you are struggling, some people have found a footfile useful. With a footfile you go over your toenails (when they are nice and dry) roughly once a week and that keeps the grow of the nail under control. The files are long- so it reduces your reach and also most of them can be washed.

The medical information on the web site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.

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About Dominic Hough

Hi. I'm Dominic. I treat patients every day at a local clinic. I am a trained Chiropodist and I care about prevention. I designed the website to help readers understand treat and even prevent issues from happening to their feet.