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How do I Treat a Split Toenail?

By Erica Stratton
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The way to treat a split toenail can range from simple home remedies to professional care, depending on how severe it is. Generally, a combination of time and care is all you need. If your toe is bleeding, bruised, inflammed, or extremely painful, you should go to a doctor. How well and how quickly toenail injuries heal largely depends on finding the root cause and preventing further damage.

Underlying Causes

Try to pinpoint the cause of the split toenail before deciding on a treatment method. Forging ahead without determining the underlying issue may delay healing and make the injury worse. For instance, moisturizing a toenail that split because of a fungal infection will just exacerbate the issue.

Physical injuries, like those caused by slamming your toe in a door or dropping something heavy on it, are among the most common causes of toenail damage. Things like dancing, running, or even hiking can also increase the risk of a split toenail, as can frequent exposure to water and extremely dry conditions. Several medical conditions are also associated with this toenail problems, like hypothyroidism, various skin diseases, poor circulation, eating disorders, and malnutrition. Using lots of strong nail polish remover or exposing your hands to chemicals and harsh soaps can also make nails brittle.

Treating Minor Damage

Minor, horizontal and vertical splits take small chips out of the nail, and do not involve the skin underneath. You can generally just trim or file off the entire affected area. If you regularly get small chips or splits, you may want to consider taking a supplement to strengthen your nails, or seeing a doctor to rule out the possibility of a fungal infection or other health problem.

Treating Moderate Damage

Moderate toenail cracks are deeper and longer than minor ones, and require more care. The main focus here is keeping the nail together until it grows out enough that you can trim the split part off. You can do this by painting over the split with superglue or nail polish. Another method is to paint your nail with the clear polish, and then put a small piece of an empty tea bag or coffee filter over the area before the polish dries. Once it dries, it will hold the paper in place, which keep the nail together.

You may also want to see a pedicurist to help with moderate damage. Depending on how serious the crack is, he or she may be able to fill it in with glue and paint over it, or apply false nails. While the split is healing, you may need to renew your pedicure as often as every one to two weeks, though this depends on how fast your toenails grow.

Treating Severe Damage

Severe toenail splits are usually caused by blunt force trauma to the toe. They are much longer, deeper, and more painful than moderate ones, and are generally accompanied by skin damage, bruising, bleeding, infection, and even broken bones. To treat a severe split toenail, clean the area with an antiseptic solution or an antibacterial cream, and then bandage it to decrease the risk of infection. If the nail completely detaches from its bed, then the only thing you can do is to clean the area and protect it with a bandage until a new one grows back. You may need to see a doctor for antibiotics if the toe becomes inflamed, swollen, or discharges pus.


After treating your split toenail, you should take a few steps to prevent future problems. An important preventative measure is proper hygiene. Keep your toenails trimmed fairly short to avoid snagging them on socks and hosiery, and keep your feet and toes clean to prevent fungal infections. You should also make sure to moisturize your toenails if you're often in very dry environments, and use appropriate footwear when participating in physical activities. If your toenail is in the process of healing, avoid doing things that could re-injure it, like playing sports or wearing tight shoes.

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Discussion Comments

By pms13681 — On Nov 24, 2013

Split toenail -- is this important for a diabetic?

By anon304007 — On Nov 17, 2012

I've always had a fairly deep horizontal crack on the beginning of my great toe and sometimes the pressure is so bad, I feel it will one day just snap off completely.

Yesterday, I was out dancing and some guy slipped on a wet floor and landed right on my toe. The force was terrible and even after a few drinks, the pain was still unbearable, so I went to sit down for a short while. The minute I got back up on my feet, somebody else stood on the same toe -- in the same place.

Now, roughly 23 hours later, I'm sitting still, not moving my feet at all and I can still feel the pulsation of pain. They hurt at the best of times anyway, because of the crack and weight going down on the end half of the toenail from shoes. But this truly is the worst it's ever been. Pain relief for this would be handy.

By anon149606 — On Feb 04, 2011

my mom used to use tea tree oil to help her nails while she was going through chemo. it worked great for her!

By panda2006 — On Feb 04, 2011

When I get split toenails from running, it can be pretty painful. I have tried in the past to put bandages on the exposed nail to keep it from bleeding or bruising, but they usually fall off. These days I just try to wear a really thick pair of socks, or even two pairs of socks, to help protect the toe.

By sherlock87 — On Feb 02, 2011

While I don't know if it can ever be what causes toenails to split, wearing nail polish on your finger or toe nails for long can cause a dramatic discoloration. The polish keeps the nail from getting any oxygen, so it can turn yellow over time.

Another problem caused by nail polish is that if you apply it and then remove it too constantly, the repeated use of remover can make your nail thinner and weaker, which can make it break or split more easily.

By Catapult — On Jan 31, 2011

My mother has had a split fingernail for many years, and I always wondered why; I think it might have originally been a combination of these dryness and malnutrition factors, though I still don't know. She has never gone to a doctor for the problem, at least not to my knowledge.

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