Have you ever wondered why we have toe nails? What do we actually need our toe nails for? The first thing that comes to mind is that they are there to paint with nail polish! It does look pretty on some but is this what they are for?
Some say they are used to protect the underlying bone. People who have lost the toenail because of trauma or have had them removed surgically clearly show that the skin grows thicker where the nail used to be and this may offer the same protection as the nail....if needed!
Looking at it differently, both humans and primates have similar nails on the hands and feet but may use them differently. Primates use them for grooming, climbing, add traction when walking or running (the latter is useless in humans due to the use of shoes) or to defend themselves from some other animals. Primates toes function as fingers and may be used for the same reasons.
Our fingernails may help in scratching, picking up small objects and may also add extra sensation to touch, but can we say the same about the nails on our toes? We seem to agree that nails are remains of evolutionary changes happening in humans..... From a podiatrist‘s point of view there are more disadvantages than advantages of having toe nails.
Toe nails grow quite fast and should be trimmed at least every fortnight. Ideally they are cut straight across leaving the corners where they can be felt - avoid rounding the corners. The ideal length of the toenail is when the edge of the toenail reaches the tip of the toe. This can be checked by running your finger on the tip of the toe and feel the edge of the toenail. Proper toe nail cutting is the best way to prevent ingrowing toenails.
The nails should be trimmed with appropriate “nail nippers” and not pulled or cut with any other device than may slip and cause damage to the surrounding skin or toes. Cut throughout the whole nail and do not pull at the end since this may leave part of the nail acting as a sharp splinter that will gradually grow into the skin. This corner will grow into the skin gradually causing the side of the toe to inflame and due to the open area be at risk of infection.
Ingrown toe nails may start being felt when wearing closed shoes and just be uncomfortable. If left untreated ingrown toenails may become red, inflamed and very painful with even the slightest touch. This will increase the chance of having to surgically remove the toenail permanently.
Our feet (including our toenails of course) spend most of their time in enclosed footwear where they are prone to all sort of trauma and infections. It is very common to hear of nails being infected with fungi that may cause discoloration or deformity of the nail but rarely cause any pain. Fungi thrive in hot and moist environments, so closed footwear is the best place to find these microorganisms. Damaged empty toenails that are no longer attached to the nail bed is another place these opportunistic fungi may infect . This is due to the moisture in the shoes. The older we get the more susceptible we are to fungi, this is mainly due to slow growing toenails caused by low circulation.
There are different type of organisms that can infect the nail as well as different types of infection. The podiatrist will advise and treat in accordance to the organism and type of infection. It is ideal to ventilate our feet to prevent these infections - and of course it is best to wash your feet on a daily basis. Nail polish left for a long time increases the chance of superficial fungal infections so it is advisable not to use in winter and replace regularly in summer.
Thick toenails may be caused because of many reasons. Trauma such as dropping a can of peas on the big toenail may cause thickening of the toenail or short shoes worn for a long time may cause the nails of the longest toes to thicken (in many women who have a second long toe usually develop a thick nail). Neglected or uncut toe nails in shoes especially in the elderly will cause thickening of the nails that resembles a ram’s horn. Apart from having them cut periodically by a professional, thickened nails may also be kept under control by filing regularly.
I have indicated some possible nail ailments.... I can’t think of a positive reason why we may have nails... Can you?