A large chunk of my big toenail broke off. How long may it take to heal, and what precautions should I take while dancing? —Lauren
Ouch. Losing a toenail is no fun. According to Dr. Alan Woodle, a podiatrist who has worked with Pacific Northwest Ballet, a big toenail takes about six months to grow back from base to tip. Take care of what's left of yours by trimming and filing any jagged edges and keeping it clean. (Fungal infections can make nails prone to splitting and detaching, so see a podiatrist if your nail looks yellowed, thick or crusty.)
If you develop signs of bacterial infection, such as throbbing pain, redness, swelling or drainage, Woodle urges you to soak your foot in a lukewarm Epsom salt bath for 10 minutes, a couple times a day. Apply a topical antibacterial ointment to the nail afterwards and bandage it securely; if the symptoms persist, call your doctor.
To help protect your nail while you're dancing, especially on pointe, offset the pressure on your big toe by padding the other toes with lamb's wool. (I also recommend taping a small square of 2nd Skin on tender areas around the nail for cooling pain relief.) Dancing with a sore toe can make you do funky things on pointe to compensate; if you're experiencing a lot of discomfort, ask your teacher if you can continue class in slippers for a while to allow your nail to heal.
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor and former dancer Amy Brandt at email@example.com.