Broken nails are intensely painful. You may even experience bleeding, depending on the type of injury.
Worst of all, you’ll worry whether the nail will grow back, how long it takes, and what to do if it doesn’t regrow. We’ve developed this guide to answer your most pressing questions.
My nail broke really far down, and it hurts! What Do I Do?
If you break a nail, the first thing to do is contain the bleeding and minimize the pain. Fortunately, pressing a cold, wet rag over the wound clears the blood and minimizes the pain simultaneously.
Next, dry the nail, and apply petroleum jelly to soothe the nail bed. Then apply nail glue to join the separated nail and an adhesive bandage until the nail heals.
What Causes Nail Splitting?
Natural nails can split for various reasons. The following are common reasons a healthy nail plate may split;
- Injury: Injuries are the most common cause of broken nails. For instance, you may accidentally crush your nails with a hammer during construction. Alternatively, poorly trimmed nails can catch objects, resulting in a torn nail plate.
- Nail biting: You’re likely to damage the nail tip and tear the plate if you’re a nail-biter. Moreover, biting softens the nail and increases the risk of nail lifting, both of which increase the risk of broken nails.
- Excess moisture: Do you work in a high-moisture environment? For instance, do you wash plates regularly or handle cleaning detergents often? If so, you’re at an increased risk of broken nails.
- Nail infection: Fungal infections, bacterial infections, and yeast increase the risk of broken nails. For instance, some fungal infections thicken and dry the nails, causing cracking. Cracked nails break easily.
- Psoriasis: This is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes the rapid buildup of skin cells, resulting in scaling, inflammation, and redness. It may also cause nails to thicken, crumble, and split.
- Underlying medical conditions: Certain health conditions cause nail health decline, contributing to splitting and cracking. For instance, the liver disease causes Terry’s nails, a type of leukonychia characterized by ground glass opacification of the entire nail plate. It also obliterates the lunula at the nail base, causing cracking and splitting. Thyroid, kidney, and heart disease can cause dry, cracked nails.
Why is My Broken Nail Throbbing?
Throbbing nail pain can result from various causes. However, you can narrow down the causes to four possibilities if the pain accompanies a broken nail;
This is a skin infection around the nails. It’s often a candida (bacterial) infection but may also be fungal. Biting your nails, aggressively pushing back the cuticles, and overexposure to moist conditions are common predisposing factors.
This is a fungal infection that affects the nail bed. It’s characterized by yellow, cracked nails and often accompanied by sharp pain, redness, swelling, and tenderness. Onychomycosis can cause nail avulsion if not addressed early.
Bleeding under the nails is known as subungual hematoma. It causes intense pain and throbbing as blood pools under the nail plate. Subungual hematomas can result from various issues, including slamming the car door against your finger.
Toenail Ripped Off
You’ll experience significant pain if an injury results in a ripped-off finger or toenail. The good news is that ripped-off nails grow back naturally. Unfortunately, it takes up to six months for fingernails and 18 months for toenails.
Nail Bed Exposed
The nail bed is extremely delicate. Therefore, injuries or infections that expose the nail bed can cause immense pain. The finger or toe may also swell, and the injury may cause reduced blood flow and loss of feeling in the affected area.
Dangers of Untreated Nail Injuries
You must immediately address nail injuries and infections. Otherwise, you may run into one or more of the following problems;
- Severe pain and swelling: Untreated nail injuries can be very painful. Swelling often accompanies toenail pain, making walking or wearing shoes difficult. Meanwhile, fingernail injuries and infections may make it difficult to use the affected arm.
- Spread of the infection: Untreated nail infections can spread to other nails, worsening the pain and suffering. Worse still, fungal infections easily spread to other body parts, including the genitals and skin. A full-blown infection is also possible.
- Organ damage: Untreated bacterial and fungal infections occasionally enter the bloodstream, affecting various organs, including the kidney and liver. Organ damage can cause severe illnesses.
- Nail loss: Harmless splitting or cracking can ultimately cause the nail plate to separate from the nail bed, leading to total nail loss. This can happen naturally or through a medical procedure known as matrix ectomy.
What’s the Solution?
Most nail breaks aren’t serious and can be treated at home. However, you should consider medical attention for more serious injuries.
When to Consider Self-Care
We recommend self-care if;
- You can stop the pain and bleeding.
- The nail plate isn’t torn and is fully attached to the nail bed.
- The torn section is less than a quarter of the nail.
Step 1: Stop the Pain and Bleeding
If you have a broken nail, the first thing to do is stop the bleeding and address the pain. This prevents unnecessary blood loss and keeps at bay infections that may enter the body via the wound. It also minimizes your suffering and initiates the healing process.
The following are basic first-aid steps to stop bleeding and minimize pain simultaneously.
Put pressure on the area with a tissue, clean cloth, or gauze pad
This stops the bleeding in a few minutes while relieving pain. Use more gauze or cloth if the blood soaks through the first one. Also, apply more pressure.
Don’t remove the cloth to check if the bleeding has stopped. Doing so disrupts the clotting process. Instead, apply pressure for 10-15 minutes, then check the wound.
If the bleeding hasn’t stopped, apply fresh gauze and wait another 10-15 minutes. If it’s still bleeding, seek medical help.
Apply ice for 20 minutes every two hours
Once the bleeding stops, it’s time to tackle the lingering pain. The quickest solution is an ice pack. Apply an ice pack over the wound for 20 minutes every 2-4 hours until you feel better. Again, see the doctor if the pain lasts more than two ways.
Consider pain medication
Painkillers like ibuprofen and naproxen reduce pain and swelling within an hour. Alternatively, take acetaminophen to reduce the pain if you have no swelling.
The best part is you can purchase these drugs over the counter without a doctor’s prescription. However, speak to your doctor about painkillers if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, or liver disease.
Remove the artificial nail
Ideally, you want to remove the artificial nail once the wound heals. However, false nails may worsen the pain and swelling. So you can remove it as soon as the pain recedes. You’ll notice greater comfort once you remove them.
Be extremely careful and gentle when removing false nails from a broken nail. For instance, don’t immerse the affected finger in acetone. Instead, use a cotton ball to soak the acetone off gently. Alternatively, try nail polish remover instead of acetone. Nail polish removers are kinder on the skin.
Assess the damage to determine whether to see the doctor.
Once the bleeding stops and the pain subsides, assess the injury to determine whether to fix the broken nail at home or see the doctor.
For instance, how much nail is damaged? Is it more than half of the natural nail? Also, how deep is the wound? Is the skin underneath the nail affected? Do you have a nail bed injury? Unfortunately, nail bed injuries are challenging to treat at home. So, you should see the doctor.
Similarly, check whether the nail is detached. Again, do not home-treat a detached nail. Finally, sometimes broken nails result from ingrown nails. If you notice this problem, seek medical attention.
Step #2: Fixing the Broken Nail
You can begin fixing the broken nail within 1-3 days, provided the bleeding is gone and the pain and swelling diminished. The following are four ways to “reattach” your broken nail.
Method #1: Reattaching a Broken Nail Using Nail Glue
If you’re a fan of artificial nails, you likely have some glue around. It’s one of the most effective remedies for broken nails.
- Wash the affected nail with clean, warm water. Then dry it with a towel.
- Soften the nail plate by massaging it with a warm towel.
- Apply glue onto the area where the nail broke off. Then spread the glue into a thin layer.
- Lay the broken nail onto the nail bed, carefully adjusting it to fit the remaining nail.
- Press the reattached nail for 30-60 seconds until the glue cures.
- Use a cotton ball or Q-tip to remove excess glue
- Smoothen the nail using a nail buffer
- Apply clear nail polish.
Method #2: Treating a Broken Nail Using Tea bags
The antioxidants in green tea have long helped enthusiasts strengthen their nails and prevent yellowing and infection.
However, recent trials show that tea bags also have a rubberizing effect that helps reattach broken nails.
- Wash the nail with warm water and dry it with a clean towel.
- Cut a small tea bag material sufficient to cover the broken nail.
- Apply glue or base coat to the affected nail.
- Use tweezers to lay the tea bag material onto the damaged area.
- Cover the tea bag material with a fresh layer of glue
- Allow to dry, then buff the nail and apply a protective top coat.
Method #3: Reattaching a Broken Nail with Gel and Silk Wrap
Silk wrap is one of the more traditional materials for “reattaching” broken nails. It doesn’t heal the nail. However, it holds the broken nail pieces together without appearing too bulky. This allows you to rock “full” nails until the nails regrow.
- Wash the nails with warm water and sterilize them with rubbing alcohol.
- Slice a small piece of silk wrap enough to cover the affected nail plate.
- Apply a base coat to the broken nail. Spread it over the entire nail.
- Gently lay the silk wrap over the base coat, ensuring it fully covers the broken line.
- Apply a gel top coat for protection.
- Buff the nail and apply light nail polish.
Method #4: Apply an artificial nail
Finally, you can always turn to glue-on nails to conceal a broken nail. It’s a solution that splits opinions, with health professionals warning patients to keep off false nails until the nail bed heals. However, it works if you’re careful, especially for short events.
The first major decision is whether to reattach the broken nail or apply the stick-on to the remaining natural nail. Either option works, but many users prefer reattaching the broken nails with tape to protect the exposed nail bed.
When you’re ready, proceed as follows;
- Clean the existing nail with warm water and dry it with a towel.
- Reattach the broken nail using clear tapes, such as Scotch or gift-wrapping tape. To do so, apply glue to the broken nail, apply the tape, and apply another layer of glue.
- Apply the stick-on nail, attaching it to the healthy portion of the nail only. Don’t attach it to the broken part, as the weight can cause pain.
Step #3: Additional Wound Management Tips
Unfortunately, broken nails may take a long time to heal, often requiring extensive wound management before you can resume traditional manicures.
The following additional tips should help you take great care of the injury;
- Keep the entire nail dry always.
- Avoid wet working conditions, such as dishwashing.
- File the nails regularly, ideally weekly, to keep sharp edges smooth.
- Apply antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.
Step #4: When to See a Doctor
Although you can treat 80% of broken nails, home treatment doesn’t work for all cases. For instance, some infections spread quickly, requiring immediate medical attention.
The following are telltale signs it’s time to book a physician appointment;
- The crack or nail split affects over a quarter of the nail plate.
- You have severe, unrelenting pain and bleeding.
- The pain is accompanied by severe swelling or inflammation.
- You suspect broken bones underneath the nail bed.
- The infection appears to be spreading to adjacent fingers or toes.
- The reconstructed or reattached nail plate grows thick and rugged.
Does a Nail Grow Back?
Yes, most broken nails grow back naturally. Again, it’s not a 100% guarantee. However, most nails grow back. The only problem is that damaged nails take a long time to regrow fully.
For instance, a fingernail grows back in six months, while toenails grow back in 12-18 months. See the doctor if your broken nail doesn’t start regrowing within three months.
How Long does It Take for Nails to Grow Back?
Typically fingernails grow back in six months, while toenails regrow in 12-18 months. However, the growth rate can be slower or faster depending on several factors.
For instance, a healthy diet promotes faster nail growth. Similarly, nails grow faster if you take good care of them. On the other hand, a lack of critical nutrients may slow down nail regrowth.
How to Get the Nail to Reattach to the Nail Bed
Can a lifted nail reattach to the nail bed? This is a very common question. Unfortunately, it’s impossible. Nail plates don’t reattach to the nail bed after lifting. Instead, you must wait for a new nail. Fortunately, almost all nails grow back after injury or infection.
If you’re worried about the lifted nail, you have a few options. For instance, you may trim it to the point where it lifts from the nail bed. Alternatively, trim it in a fresh adhesive bandage once it grows back.
How do I Get My Toenail to Grow Back After Falling Off?
Unfortunately, you cannot do much to help your toenail grow back after falling off. However, providing conducive conditions encourage stronger and healthier new nails. Moreover, proper care as the nail regrows reduces the risk of fresh injury or damage.
The following are a few tips to consider;
- Trim away the sharp edges of torn nails.
- Keep the affected nail completely dry for the first two days.
- Once the two days pass, wash the nail with warm water daily.
- Soak the nail in warm salt-dissolved water 2-3 times daily to prevent infection.
- Regularly apply petroleum jelly to soothe the nail and surrounding skin.
- Protect the nail with a fresh adhesive bandage as it regrows.
- Avoid tight-fitting shoes or socks until your nails heal.
How to Remove a Fingernail that is Falling Off
Scissors are the easiest way to remove a fingernail that’s falling off. Soak the affected nail in warm water and dry it with a towel. Then trim it with scissors to the point where it’s falling off. When done, apply petroleum jelly and cover the wound with a bandage until the nail regrows.
Pain management and stopping the bleeding are the first steps when your nail breaks far down the nail bed. Apply pressure with a clean cloth to stop bleeding and an ice pack to thaw the pain.
Then “reattach” the broken nail with nail glue, a tea bag, or silk wrap. Seek medical attention if home remedies are ineffective.