Ingrowing Toenail Surgery

This page will provide you with information about ingrowing toenails. For further details, you should speak to your consultant Ingrowing toenails happen when your toenail starts to grow into the skin that surrounds it (see figure 1). Once this has started to happen, it can often damage the skin, which may cause infection and pain. Your big toe is most likely to experience an ingrowing toenail.

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What causes it to happen?

Most commonly, not cutting your toenails properly is a cause. This may be because you have cut the toenail too short or cut down the sides. The problem can also be genetic, where toenails that do not grow straight run in the family. Ingrowing toenails can also be the result of wearing shoes that are not wide enough to fit your feet comfortably.

What are the benefits of the operation?

Once the ingrown section, or all of the toenail, has been removed then the infection and any associated pain will stop.

Do I have any options other than surgery?

Cutting your toenails straight across and not leaving any sharp edges can help the problem. Wearing shoes that fit the natural shape of your feet may also help. Sometimes your consultant may be able to move the skin away from the ingrowing toenail, or cut away the piece of toenail that is causing you a problem. An ingrowing toenail is not a life-threatening condition. However, over time you could get an infection, experience pain and have difficulty walking.

What happens during ingrowing toenail surgery?

The procedure is usually performed under a local anaesthetic and takes around 10 minutes to complete.

After injecting a local anaesthetic into your toe to numb the area, your doctor will usually place a tourniquet (tight strap) around your toe. After this stage, and depending on the extent of your problem, the surgery usually involves one of the following techniques:

  • Nail avulsion (removal of the whole toenail)
  • Wedge excision (removal of part of your toenail)
  • Nail-bed ablation (removal of part of or the whole toenail, then applying a chemical or an electric current to the area of tissue to prevent the toenail from growing back)
  • Zadeks procedure (removal of your whole toenail and then cutting away the area of tissue that your toenail grows from)

Are there any potential complications with this surgery?

Most surgical procedures carry some level of risk or possible complication. These will be discussed with you by your consultant or pre-assessment nurse prior to your procedure.

How soon will I recover?

Your foot will be covered with a thick, padded bandage and you should keep your foot raised to reduce any swelling. You consultant will inform you of any stitches that might need to be removed at a later date. After a short while you will be able to go home. You should not drive, operate machinery or do any potentially dangerous activities for at least 24 hours to give you the time to recover from the anaesthetic. Try to keep your leg raised for the first few days. After that, you can usually start to be a little more active. However, avoid sports or strenuous exercise for two weeks. Ensure you keep the foot dressing dry. Although the risk of the problem recurring is less after a nail-bed ablation, an ingrowing toenail can happen again in the future, which may need another operation.


References: EIDO Healthcare Limited – The operation and treatment information on this website is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by Aspen Healthcare.

The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

Ingrowing Toenail Surgery Consultants