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Why Do Soccer Players Have Black Toenails?

Why Do Soccer Players Have Black Toenails?

Being a professional soccer player comes with a lot of hard work and physical exertion. During major competitions and tournaments, soccer players often engage in rigorous rounds of training to perform exceptionally well on matchdays.

Due to the physical requirements of soccer, players often suffer from skin tan, fatigue, injuries, and even develop black toenails. Aside from soccer players, black toenails are common among sprinters, basketball players, and American football players.

Key Takeaways

  • Black toenails usually result from traumatic blows to the toes or the constant hitting of the toes on the inside of the cleats
  • The condition can also be a sign of ongoing fungal infection
  • Wearing thinner socks, trimming your toenails, using good-fitting cleats, and properly lacing your soccer boots can help in preventing black toenails
  • Playing carefully on the soccer pitch can also help reduce the chances of getting black toenails

Black toenail is often painless even though it looks awkward and nasty. Repetitive trauma to the toes is the common cause of this nail defect.

Soccer players who are just getting started in the sport are more prone to developing black toenails. This is because they haven’t gotten used to the simple techniques of playing soccer which can keep them safe on the pitch.

A toenail turning black, red, gray, or blue doesn’t necessarily mean that it is approaching the end of its life span. Such toenails can still be salvaged by a podiatrist.

Understanding why soccer players have black toenails can help you to avoid getting the same condition. We will also highlight simple remedies and treatments for black toenails.

4 Reasons Behind Black Toenails Of Soccer Players

Soccer players have black toenails because of blood clots under the nails which can occur due to several reasons. The scientific name for this toenail injury is subungual hematoma.

Soccer players can experience it when they stub their toes with force or when they get stepped on. Also, it can result from wearing oversized soccer cleats.

Your foot will continue to slide back and forth when you run or walk around the soccer pitch on oversized cleats. This backward and forward movement will cause your toes to continue hitting against the front part of your cleat, thereby causing nail trauma.

Traumas can either be mild and painless or bloody and throbbing. Severe traumas can ruin toenails and force them to detach from the nail plate more easily. Early detection of black toenails can help you start seeking solutions faster.

When black toenails are detected early, some preventive measures can be applied to help them clear up on their own without further medication or treatment. We shall look at some potential causes of black toenails to help you understand how to better protect your toes on the pitch.

Kid are playing soccer while wear shin guards

1. Skin pigmentation change

Black toenails can occur naturally without any injuries or ailments. Dark-skinned soccer players can naturally begin to get lighter or darker when affected by the weather or other environmental factors.

When this starts happening, the skin beneath the toenails can also get affected—even though they are not directly exposed to the environment. Natural skin pigmentation changes occur uniformly without exempting any part of the body.

When melanin causes nail discoloration, it is referred to as melanonychia. Living in a hot, dry, and humid area can cause the skin around your nail to become darker. Dark toenails can also be a sign of advanced subungual melanoma.

Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that develops quite slowly. It is usually not noticed in its early stages until it becomes full-blown.

The common symptom of subungual melanoma might include a dark pigmentation on the skin and nails that often spreads to the surrounding skin. Some cases of dark-looking toenails can also be linked to a deficiency in vitamin B12 and D, a lack of protein, and dehydration.

Body pigmentation can only occur haphazardly when players apply bleaching cream or other skin-whitening chemicals which aren’t good for the skin. Such creams can change the color of toenails and fingernails when used over an extended period.

2. Underlying health issues

Few known health issues can be responsible for dark toenails, they include kidney disease, heart disease, anemia, and diabetes. Treating such illnesses can help stop the toenails from getting dark or reverse the condition.

Soccer players who are diabetic often experience changes in the color of their toenails. This is often linked to poor circulation of blood, unnoticed trauma, and susceptibility of the body to fungal infection due to high levels of glucose in the blood.

Meanwhile, players who suffer from advanced kidney disease can also notice a reddish or brown coloration on their nails. It is also on record that many diseases of the heart usually force fluid to accumulate in the feet thereby causing the toenails to become black.

The change in color of toenails is often a signal that something bad is wrong with the body. Don’t hesitate to consult your doctor when such changes are noticed.

Soccer player in the hospital (2)

3. Fungal infections   

When the toenails get injured, they become more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections. Poor hygiene, dirt, and humid environments can also be responsible for the infection of toenails.

Infected toenails can either look yellowish, white, or black depending on how long it has been infected. The black coloration of infected toenails is usually a result of the gradual buildup of debris.

Nail fungus can quickly spread to other nails if proper medical attention isn’t administered. Wearing dirty and moist soccer cleats as well as socks can also be responsible for the build-up of fungus on the toenails.

When toenails become infected, they don’t only look dark, they also become distorted and sometimes ooze out yellow fluids. Over-the-counter antifungal creams can be used in treating this disease but consulting a medical practitioner will save you a lot of trouble.

4. Trauma  

Trauma can either be a one-time serious toe injury or a gradual repetitive minor toe injury. For example, when a player misses the ball and kicks the goalpost instead, their toenail might get ruptured immediately and become filled with blood.

In such a circumstance, the injured toenail will instantly begin to hurt and sometimes even start bleeding out. The toe can also get swollen and become red if the force of the impact was lethal.

When it comes to the issue of repetitive trauma, wearing poorly-fitting soccer shoes and tying your laces wrongly can also cause toenail trauma. Poorly-fitting soccer shoes may cause long-term pressure on your toes.

It usually starts from mildly painful hotspots to very painful blisters on the feet and even under your toenails. This is due to the friction that is generated from the interaction between the feet and the tight soccer boots during gameplay.

When tight cleats are switched with better-fitting pairs, in time, the discolored toenail might heal naturally without any treatment. If the trauma becomes severe, it can cause the nail to get detached from the nail bed and fall off.

A podiatrist is the best person to meet when such a problem is encountered. Don’t try to treat it yourself.


Prevention and treatment of black toenails

Even though you might not be able to stop black toenails from ever occurring, there are certain things you can do to reduce the chances of it occurring.

For those who are already suffering from it, there are effective ways to treat them without causing any complications.

How to prevent black toenails

Black toenails might not be preventable but by applying some of the tips below, you might reduce the chances of ever experiencing them. The tips include:

  • Ensure you wear soccer cleats and socks that fit correctly. While playing soccer, the feet may swell due to heat and pressure. Your cleat should have enough space for the new size
  • Wear properly padded soccer cleats, use toe pads, and also add an extra insole to your cleat if necessary
  • Lace your cleat correctly to prevent your foot from sliding in it. Trauma is usually caused when the foot keeps hitting the front part of the cleat while you are walking or running
  • Change your regular insoles to non-slip insoles to prevent the sliding around of your feet in your cleats
  • Wear grip socks to keep your feet firm in your soccer cleats
  • Protect your feet by wearing suitable footwear while using a public bathroom
  • Always get yourself checked for any health issues. A monthly medical checkup is advised for soccer players.
  • Use sunblock and don’t get your skin too exposed to the sun or UV rays
  • Be cautious about the safety of your feet while playing soccer. Avoid tackles and dribbles that might get your feet injured
  • Maintain proper foot care and personal hygiene

practice dribbling a soccer ball with friends

How black toenail is treated

The best-qualified person to handle a black toenail isn’t you or your teammates. A podiatrist is better experienced. The treatment for a black toenail is often determined by the cause of the problem.

When the toenail is affected by a blunt force injury, the clotted blood below the toenail can be drained by poking a small hole in the nail using a needle. Draining the blood below the nail will ease pressure from it and allow it to start healing.

If your podiatrist discovers an underlying health issue causing the black toenails, the doctor will likely recommend treating the underlying illness.

Depending on the underlying condition, the doctor can also recommend drugs, diet changes, and other lifestyle changes that will help you to safely play soccer. Whenever you try to treat a black toenail and the problem persists over a week or two, visit your doctor.


Mild cases of black toenails don’t always result in losing the affected toenail. When the toenail is slightly detached from the nail bed, there is a higher chance that you might lose the toenail even if you consult a doctor.

Treatment for mild cases of black toenails is different from severe cases. Players diagnosed with melanoma can also be treated depending on the severity of the ailment.

Unless you have an underlying health condition, don’t allow black toenails to stop you from enjoying the numerous benefits of playing soccer. Thankfully, the problem can resolve on its own or after medication.