Ingrown toenails: causes and risk factors


Ingrown toenails are a common foot condition. It happens when the edge of a nail grows into the skin, causing redness, swelling, and pain. If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can become infected and cause serious problems.

There are several causes and risk factors for developing an ingrown toenail. The two most common causes are wearing shoes that are too tight and cutting nails that are too short or have rounded edges.

This article will cover common causes and risk factors for ingrown toenails. He will discuss how heredity and lifestyle can also play a role in the disease.


Common causes

There are many causes of ingrown toenails. The most common causes are ill-fitting shoes and poorly cut nails.

When shoes are worn too tight, extra pressure is put on the toenail. This pressure can cause the nail to grow into the skin and incarnate.

Toenails that are not cut properly can also cause an ingrown toenail. Nails cut too short or nails with rounded edges can grow into the skin and become an ingrown toenail.

Other causes of ingrown toenails include:

  • Crushing a toe or toe injury
  • Nails too big for the toe
  • Deformities of the foot or toes
  • Repetitive sports activities (like kicking a soccer ball)
  • Obesity
  • Wet or sweaty feet
  • Take certain cancer medications
  • Claw nails (nails that grow in the shape of a tube)


Genetics does not usually play a role in ingrown toenails. However, some people may inherit a tendency to ingrown toenails.

Clipped nails are a rare nail deformity that affects 0.9% of the population. It is characterized by a thickening of the nail and the edges of the nail that push towards each other, forming a half-tube shape.

The cause of pincer nail growth is not completely understood, but it can be hereditary (passed down from parents) or acquired. Conditions that can lead to the acquisition of pinched nails are:

  • Kidney failure (kidney failure)
  • Kawasaki disease (acute inflammatory condition of the heart and blood vessels)
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) cancers
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) (progressive neurological disease)
  • Lupus (autoimmune disease)

A 2020 study reported that when these conditions were well controlled, the pincer nail disappeared.


A toenail is more likely to ingrown if you have a condition that causes water retention in your feet. Water retention can be due to cardiovascular conditions, including heart failure, kidney failure, or chronic venous insufficiency.

Lifestyle risk factors

A few lifestyle risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing an ingrown toenail. These factors may or may not be modifiable. Modifiable factors are changes a person can make to reduce their risk. Non-modifiable factors that may contribute to the prevalence of this condition are those that cannot be changed, such as age, gender, or ethnicity.

Some lifestyle risk factors include:

  • Being a teenager or young adult: People in this age group tend to have sweatier feet due to hormonal changes.
  • To be older: Older people may find it harder to take care of their feet or see changes in their feet that can lead to an ingrown toenail.
  • Sports: Playing sports that involve repetitive kicking and running can injure toenails.
  • Certain health conditions: Conditions that decrease blood flow to the feet, such as diabetes, can cause ingrown toenails.


An ingrown toenail is when the edges of the toenail push into the skin. This causes redness, swelling and pain. Ingrown toenails can be caused by many factors, including shoes that are too tight, nails that are cut too short, or participating in sports that involve kicking or running. There are also risk factors such as diabetes and age that play into the development of an ingrown toenail.

A word from Verywell

An ingrown toenail may seem minor, but it can become serious if left untreated. A mild ingrown toenail can be treated at home, but moderate or severe ingrown toenails should be treated by a medical professional. If left untreated, the nail can break into the skin, which can let in bacteria and cause infection. If you have any questions or are unsure how to treat your ingrown toenail, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare professional.

By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN

Patty is a Registered Nurse with over a decade of pediatric critical care experience. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.


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