How to remove a toenail

The bond between a person and his big toenail can be a beautiful thing, offering warmth, protection, and companionship. But all things must pass. If the time arises to part with one’s toenail, here are some tips on how to make the parting less painful. I caution that I am not a medical doctor; nor do I play one on television.


1. After the race, gently insert a sterilized needle under the toenail, to pop and drain the blisters under the nail. This will relieve pressure on the nail, and restore considerable sensation to the big toe underneath.

2. Wait two or three weeks.

3. The new nail will bud under the nail, and the old nail will gradually loosen.

4. Signs that the toenail is ready to be removed: white cadaverous colour; independent movement under sock; independent water flow under toenail at pool and in bath.

5. Sterilize a set of needle-nosed pliers in boiling water.

6. Draw a hot bath.

7. Soak in bath.

8. Insert pliers under toenail. Gently and slowly pull toenail up and to the side. If there is blood, pain, and/or resistance, defer procedure for a few days.

9. Toenail should slide out of toe casing akin to a CD out of a tight CD case.

10. Photograph toe, toenail, and pliers.

11. Show toenail and pliers to wife and children. Points for creatively and nonchalantly leaving same lying around house on wife’s dresser, kitchen counter, computer desk, etc.

12. Save toenail or fashion it into creative memento.

Thanks to Pete Villella (also not a medical doctor) for coaching me through this process. And for a more rough method of toenail removal, see Ferg Hawke's method at 1:10 of Rob Letson's most excellent The Distance of Truth trailer.



Ean Jackson's picture

The Jackson Method

I became quite experienced at the art and science of removing toenails when I first started running ultras.  

The root cause, I came to learn the hard way, was wearing shoes that were the correct size for my feet.  Given that feet have a tendency to expand when encased in plastic for extended periods of time and that toenails generally disapprove of being whacked repeatedly against the toebox on long downhills, using shoes that are 1/2 size larger help.

I found it was OK to go directly from step 3 to step 8 if one is patient.  You know the time is right to go down to the garage and get the pliers when you can bend your toenail back at 90-degrees without it hurting that much.  While not absolutely required, I find the drama quotient increases when you have a swig of an adult beverage before you pull with the pliers.  (Think John Wayne removing an arrow from his shoulder or something similar....)

It's good family fun, like making a wish and pulling on the wishbone, when you share the excitement of pulling on the pliers with a family member or loved one.  Since my wife and kids are used to seeing me lose toenails, I find one gets more of a reaction by putting them in a necklace and sharing with people who are less familiar with long distance running.  You're soon the center of attention when you take them out at parties.  Folks love to hear your stories about how and where you lost each of the nails. 

The nails also act as a good luck charm at poker games along with any extracted molars you may have.  Trust me on that.  Rune Melcher and Gary Robbins may both be better card players, but I always go home with their money when I bring my lucky charms.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.