This is a bad time of year to be a juvenile toenail.
Suffolk, Va. foot and ankle surgeon Matthew Dairman, DPM, FACFAS, says he sees a lot of children with ingrown toenails during fall soccer season.
"It seems like every child is enrolled in a league," says Dairman, "The young kids wear hand-me-down cleats that don’t fit exactly right. The older kids like tighter cleats to get a better feel for the ball and the field."
Dairman says these tight shoes crowd the toes together. Combine that with repetitive kicking, and you've got a recipe for painful ingrown toenails. Dairman can relate to his young patients. He had an ingrown toenail himself.
"I can certainly sympathize," he laughs. "Such a small problem with such big pain. If you hit the corner of that affected toe, it shoots an intense pain that lingers."
Dairman says many of these kids don't tell their parents about the problem because they're afraid to miss a game. "By the time they come to my office, they've got a good infection brewing," he says.
Young soccer players sidelined by an ingrown toenail may be able to get back into the game pain-free thanks to a simple, 10-minute surgical procedure. Dairman's ingrown toenail was cured permanently using this common treatment. He uses his experience to calm his sometimes apprehensive young patients.
"I take my shoe off and show them how my toe looks perfectly normal now," he says.
During the short procedure, the foot and ankle surgeon numbs the toe and removes the offending portion of the nail. Various techniques can permanently remove part of a nail's root too, preventing it from growing back. Most children experience very little pain afterwards, and can resume normal activity the next day.
Dairman says parents should teach their children how to trim their toenails properly. Trim toenails in a fairly straight line, and don't cut them too short. He also urges parents to make sure their children's cleats fit, since a child's shoe size can change within a single soccer season. If a child develops a painful ingrown toenail, soaking their foot in room-temperature water and gently massaging the side of the nail fold can reduce the inflammation.
Dairman's four-year-old daughter hasn't shown an interest in soccer yet. But if she does, her father says he'll make sure her cleats fit right.
"After all," he says, "She has my eyes and probably has my toes too."