Ingrowing Toenail Surgery

This page will provide you with information about ingrowing toenails. For further details, you should speak to your consultant

What is an ingrowing toenail?

An ingrowing toenail happens when your toenail grows into the skin surrounding it (see figure 1). Once this occurs, it can damage the skin, potentially leading to infection and pain. An ingrowing toenail most often happens to your big toe.

Copyright © 2015 EIDO Healthcare Limited

Why does it happen?

The most frequent cause of an ingrowing toenail is by not to cutting your toenails properly. Usually, this is by cutting them too short or down the sides of the toenail.

It can also be a problem that runs in the family, where the toenails do not grow straight.

Wearing shoes that do not fit your feet properly can also be a cause.

What are the benefits of ingrowing toenail surgery?

Once the ingrowing part of the toenail has been removed, you should no longer have an infection or experience any pain.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

Before you turn to surgery, there are a few options you could try. Cutting your toenails straight across so they do not leave sharp edges can sometimes prevent the toenail from ingrowing. Wearing shoes that comfortably fit the shape and width of your feet can also help. Some can gain relief from their symptoms by visiting their consultant or a podiatrist (a specialist in the lower legs and feet). They may be able to push the skin away from the ingrowing toenail, or remove the piece of toenail that has grown into the skin. Although the problem is not life-threatening, the symptoms can get worse with time and cause infection, pain and difficulty walking.

What will happen during the operation?

The operation is usually performed under a local anaesthetic and takes about 10 minutes. First, your doctor will inject a local anaesthetic into your toe to numb it and will usually place a tourniquet (tight strap) around the base of your toe. You may be given antibiotics, which will reduce the likelihood of an infection.

The surgery usually involves one of the following techniques:

  • Nail avulsion, where the whole toenail is removed
  • Wedge excision, where part of your toenail is removed
  • Nail-bed ablation, where part of or the whole toenail and a chemical or an electric current is applied to the area of tissue that your toenail grows from to prevent it growing back
  • Zadeks procedure, where the whole toenail and the area of tissue that your toenail grows from is removed

Risks and complications

Any risks or complications will be discussed in advance of your treatment with your expert consultant.

How long will it take to heal?

After the operation, your foot will be covered with a thick, padded bandage and you will be able to go home shortly after. You should keep your leg raised for the first few days to help the swelling settle. After that, you can start to be a little more active. However, do not play sports or do strenuous exercise for two weeks, and not get the dressing wet. An ingrowing toenail can happen again in the future, which may need another operation.


References: EIDO Healthcare Limited – The operation and treatment information on this website is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by Aspen Healthcare.

The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.