Training Five ways to avoid runner’s toe

Five ways to avoid runner’s toe



Frequently plaguing runners, especially those logging extensive kilometres, black toe can be caused by a number of different factors. But according to Pam Mazzuca Prebeg, BSc a personal trainer and athletic therapist based in Toronto, Ontario, the most common causes is ill-fitting footwear. “Having a shoe fitting by a professional is incredibly important, you need to go somewhere that has staff who are well-trained in this area,” she says. Most importantly, the shoes need to be snug enough to prevent movement and reduce friction. Here are four additional prevention tips that can help you keep your feet in tip-top shape.

1) See a professional. Make an appointment with a chiropodist who will be able to diagnosis your gait and custom fit orthotics which will help keep your foot in place.
2) Lace up. While lacing your shoe is a matter of personal comfort Prebeg suggests using the extra hole at the top of the shoe which will hold your foot and reduce friction.
3) Socks, socks, socks. Opt for wool socks which wick away moisture from your skin and reduces rubbing as opposed to cotton ones.
4) Prime protection. Use petroleum jelly to reduce the friction between your toes during long runs. You can also purchase toe protectors which will separate your toes.
5) Practice good foot hygiene. Keep your toenails trimmed and soak your feet in a post-run Epsom salt foot bath, especially if you know you have a predisposition to it.


  1. Great advice JF.
    Another thing is DO NOT lace too tight. Your feet swell somewhat while putting on the miles and if your shoes are laced too tight they will not accomodate the swelling. This can restrict blood supply to the feet. I started out too tight and would get the needles and pins feeling in the foot just before major pain in the toe joints – ball of each toe. $400 orthodics did not cure the problem. Loosening the laces did.
    You just need to keep the shoe on your foot and not sloppy. The only way to tell is through experience.
    Sometimes the best solutions are common sense and do not cost anything.

  2. I agree with both JF and Ricardo. While I’m not a runner, I have walked many miles in various races over time. I have been plagued with black nails – the worse time involved 4 nails at the same time!

    I was very frustrated as I had professionally fitted (very expensive) shoes and professionally fitted custom orthotics (also very expensive).

    I was told to try lacing the shoes differently – using the top hole to stop my foot from shifting in the shoe as I walked.

    At the end of the day, I think that the black toe was as a result of a seam in the toe cap of the shoe that rubbed on my nail bed when I walked…. something I would have never considered when buying shoes!

  3. I went for a gait assessment, was told to buy wider shoes. Did that, developed blisters on the inside of my feet and still lost the big toe nailS.
    So, lace up too tight, second toes feel like exploding at every step and turn black. Lace up too loose, get blisters.
    Experimenting with combinations of shoe lacing, band aids to cover nail beds, Reskin, toe socks covered by anti-blister socks (after 30K, the feet heat up).
    Gel toe protectors just make your toes wrinkled from the humidity and heat and don’t seem to prevent them from turning black.
    Nail of third toe right foot now lifting as I write this! Flaps like the hood of a car shouldn’t.
    For three years I’ve been trying to resolve this.

  4. I get “mild” black toe on two of my middle toes especially when I increase my amount of long runs. I also get thickening of the nails, including my baby toe. This is obviously a natural response to the pressure or friction. I’m very careful to lace my runners like Goldilocks (not too tight, not too lose, just right) but I still even wear out some of my runners near the top and sides of the cap seam (same with 3-4 different brands).

    From experience, like blisters, my body’s reaction can exasperate the problem because my nail becomes higher and rubs more easily. So I clip my nails quite short and take an industrial file and smooth them down as much as possible.

  5. I have also gone through the black-toe experience on both my next-to-baby toes although after 4 years of running, things seem to have stabilized. My nails separated and “went vertical” long ago so I keep them short and also cut off the callous which grows where the nail grew at one time. They certainly don’t look attractive but are only sensitive for a short time after a long run. I also now buy running shoes a half-one size larger than my regular shoes.

  6. I do a lot of ultra trail running so a lot of steep deacending that tends to be hard on toes. When getting fit or shoea take your socks off. My second toe is way longer than big toe. Every shoe atore always grabs for big toe – bad move. Also, for summer running, go up half a shoe size as feet tend to swell in the heat. Once a week soak feet in water with tea tree oil – a natural disinfectant. Good luck.

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