Toes are incredibly important as they provide grip and aid in balance when walking. In prehistoric times, our toenails were used for scratching and picking things up. Obviously, nails now have aesthetic value. Why else would we paint our toenails? However, your toenails also help to protect the vulnerable area at the ends of your toes – and can come in for some rough treatment as a result.
The nail is there to protect the tip of the toe. The nail plate is hard and consists of about 25 layers of flattened, tightly packed keratinised cells. Keratin is a protein produced by cells as they mature and die. Therefore the cells that make up your nails are no longer living cells.
Toenails are a good indicator your general state of health – so you should pay attention to them. Pink nails are an indication of a rich blood supply and, ideally, nails will be smooth. Many nail disorders, such as brittle nails, ridges and lines can be a sign of vitamin or mineral deficiency, circulatory problems or other illnesses. In fact, patients undergoing surgery are usually asked to not wear nail polish since changes in nail colour can let operating staff know something is wrong.
Toenails grow 30-50% more slowly than fingernails at about 1mm a month. If you lose a toenail it will take about a year to re-grow, twice as long as a finger nail. This means that some toenail disorders have a long treatment time as they cannot be resolved until the affected portion of the nail has grown out. It is therefore important to seek treatment sooner rather than later as this will mean a shorter treatment period. The most common problems affecting toenails are discoloured toenails; ridged, dull or brittle toenails; ingrown toenails; fungal infections; and bacterial infections.
So, to avoid potentially painful problems, it’s well worth taking care of your toenails – washing and drying your feet every day, trimming your nails regularly and wearing shoes that fit properly.