Tennis toe is a painful sports-related injury you may not have heard of before. Also known as “runner’s toe,” tennis toe is a pooling of blood under the toenail called a subungual hematoma.
Tennis toe is caused by repeated pressure or injury to the toe (typically the big toe, although it can also affect the second toe), causing blood to pool under the nail. The buildup of pressure under the nail bed can be extremely painful. In serious cases, a doctor or podiatrist will need to drain the blood, releasing the pressure.
Tennis toe is generally the result of wearing shoes that are either too small or too big. When shoes are too small and the toe box does not allow enough room for the toes, the continual pressure on the toe—particularly during the start and stop motions of exercise or sports—causes tennis toe.
If shoes are too big and the foot can slide back and forth, the increased friction and pressure of the big toe against the end of the shoe can result in this painful condition.
Prevention of tennis toe is simple:
- Keep toenails clipped short so they do not extend past the end of the toe. This will reduce pressure and friction on the toe.
- Tape the big toe and second toe together.
- Make sure your shoes fit properly and they are not too big or too small.
Treating tennis toe is also simple and can often be done at home, although more serious cases may require a trip to your doctor or podiatrist. If you notice pain in your big toe and the toenail beginning to turn red or purple, it’s likely due to tennis toe. Clean the affected toe with antiseptic and cover it with gauze dressing to prevent infection and allow the toe to heal.
If you are experiencing severe pain, schedule an appointment with your doctor or podiatrist. A physician can drill a small hole in the toenail to drain the blood and release the pressure underneath the nail. This simple procedure will provide significant pain relief as the toe heals. In the most serious cases, the toenail may need to be removed (it will grow back, but it could take months).
Tennis toe, like many exercise and sports-related injuries, is entirely preventable. To make sure you get shoes that are the right fit for your foot, take some time to visit a running shoe store where the shoe experts can evaluate your foot and help you find the perfect fit.