Why Do Your Toenails Hurt After Running?

runner sitting on a rock with toe pain


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Have you noticed that after a long run, a couple of your toenails are throbbing like they are bruised? You probably wonder whether it is common for toenails to hurt after running and what you should do to prevent it. It's helpful to understand the causes of painful toenails as well as treatments to get your feet back in shape.

Why Do My Toenails Hurt?

Sore toenails may feel tender when you press on the nail or throb even when you don't touch them. In addition, you could experience foot problems such as black toenails (which usually start as that throbbing pain in your toenails), blisters, or foot numbness.

Often, toenails may become sore and can throb after a run because your toes are slammed into the tip of the toe box of your shoe with every step. This happens more often when you run downhill.

There are a couple of elements that can contribute to post-run toenail pain.

  • Your shoes are too big or worn too loose. If you have a sloppy fit, your foot may slide around more in the shoe with each step. This can contribute to more toenail trauma with each step.
  • Your shoes are too small. Your running shoes should be one-half to a full size bigger than your regular shoe size because your feet will swell when you run (especially on long runs) and you need plenty of room in the toebox.


When you experience sore toenails, you will want to give them a chance to heal for a few days. You may want to wear open-toed shoes where they will not have any further trauma until they are no longer tender.

If redness develops or the pain worsens, you should see your doctor to be sure that you don't have an infection and get treatment if you do.

You may notice that you are developing a black toenail, which will probably lead to losing the toenail. While this can be distressing, it happens to many runners and the toenail will grow back.


There are several different ways that you can adjust your shoes so that you avoid painful toenails after running.

Check Your Shoe Fit

The first step to prevent sore toenails is to check the fit of your shoes. If you're wondering if your current running shoes are the correct size, check the location of your big toe. If it's pushed right up against the front of the shoe, they're too small.

Another easy way to check the fit is to remove the shoe's insert and stand on it. If any part of your toes is hanging over the end of the insert, your running shoes are too small.

Invest in New Shoes

If you suspect that your shoes don't fit correctly, invest in a new pair. When shopping for running shoes, make sure you go to a specialty running store and have the salesperson measure your feet.

Even if you think you know your shoe size, your feet can get wider and longer (due to falling arches), even as an adult. Get your shoe size re-checked periodically.

When trying on shoes, try several different pairs. Most new shoes feel great when you first try them on. If any part of the shoe feels weird on your foot or rubs a strange way, think about how bad it could feel after 10 miles and try something else. Also, it's best to try on new running shoes after a long run or at the end of the day, when your feet are already swollen.

Use a Lacing Technique

You can also learn to lace your shoes to retain your heel in the heel cup and prevent your feet from sliding forward in the shoe with each step. Use a simple lacing technique to prevent heel slippage:

  1. Lace your shoe to the next-to-last eyelet
  2. Lace over and down through the top eyelet on the same side to form a "bunny ear."
  3. Do the same for the other side.
  4. Pull the lace through the opposite "bunny ear."
  5. Tie your bow.

This lacing technique will pull the top of the lacing tight at the ankle while keeping the rest of the lacing properly tensioned.

Keeping your foot from sliding forward is especially important for running routes that include downhill sections. You should stop and ensure your shoes are laced correctly before any significant downhills.

Choose Thicker Socks

If your shoes have a sloppy fit, you can wear a thicker running sock. Look for versions that have more padding. You can even wear two pairs of socks. Lacing techniques can also help shoes fit better.

A Word From Verywell

Sore toenails are a sign that you need to pay attention to the fit of your shoes. With the right fit and lacing techniques, you will reduce your risk of foot blisters and losing toenails. While toenail trauma is so common that it is a meme among marathoners, you don't have to join that club.

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  • Subungual Hematoma, American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. http://www.aocd.org/?page=SubungualHematoma.