Ingrown Toenail Surgery: Is it the Right Option for You?


Ingrown toenail surgery, as the name suggests, is a medical procedure performed by a trained medical professional to alleviate the pain and discomfort experienced by a person resulting from the occurrence of an ingrown toenail.  These procedures are relatively painless with mild discomfort present during the fairly short recovery period and post-op aftercare isn’t too complicated.

There are a couple of different schools of thought when it comes to removing toenails via surgery and we are going to take a look at your options. But, before we do so, you may not even need to have surgery to remove the painful toenail(s).

Ingrown Toenail Home Treatment: Are You a Good Candidate?

Ingrown toenails are probably the most common foot ailment suffered by men and women, young and old. Before embarking on surgical removal of the toenail, you might want to seriously consider the various home treatment options at your disposal. For a relatively modest some of money you have a very good chance of avoiding ingrown toenail surgery.  Many people report considerable success with these products, and they do not require any sort of invasive or dangerous bathroom surgery on your part. We discuss these products extensively here.

Surgical Options & Due Diligence

Please exercise your due diligence and educate yourself about your options before rushing out and making an ill-informed decision.

Ingrown toenail removal procedures are commonly prescribed when a patient suffers from recurring bouts of ingrown toenails or suffer from a particularly extreme instance of an ingrowing nail. While ingrown toenails are relatively common, many people mistakenly believe that a majority of instances require surgery to remove the ingrown toenail.  The fact of the matter is that surgery is not a universally accepted or preferred course of treatment and the odds that you will require ingrown toenail surgery are much lower than you probably expected.

The majority of ingrown toenail cases can be solved with minor procedures and prescribed home treatment programs by a doctor.  Home remedies can include regular soakings in warm bath solutions, antibiotic prescriptions, changes in footwear and correct nail trimming and hygiene practices.  Often times, if caught early enough, a doctor may simply lift the nail out from under the overlying skin using cotton, dental floss or a splint of some kind and placing it under the nail so that the nail can grow above the edge of the skin. However, this can be done at home with a very inexpensive device called an ingrown toenail file.

Please do not be alarmed or fall victim to some of the scare tactics you may see promoted by unscrupulous individuals and websites.  They are usually trying to scare you into buying something or scaring you into action.

We as human beings tend to procrastinate and shy away from engaging in activities that we find discomforting or disconcerting in some way.  This happens a lot in the realm of dentistry where we see people failing to visit a doctor for years.  The reason why you need to understand that ingrown toenail removal by way of surgery is relatively infrequent is so that you do not avoid going to the doctor and allow an easily treatable ingrown toenail condition grow into a problem necessitating surgery. Don’t wait until you are tired of using this before you will finally give up and go see a professional.

Visits to a podiatrist are nearly universally covered by insurance plans and should be utilized at the first hint of a possible ailment.  If you have any tenderness or pain sensations (even if they are minor) be on the lookout for swelling and discoloration in the area you are experiencing discomfort.  The area may redden and begin to grow extra tissue or skin around the immediate area as this is a typical anatomical reaction by our body to this localized trauma.  Soon a yellowish puss may drain from the area.  The good news is that this does not necessarily mean there is an infection.

The longer these conditions persist the greater the likelihood that an infection will materialize.  If excessive inflammation, pain and swelling continue unabated, look for reddish skin to surround lighter-colored skin. It is important that you take this seriously because the toe nail is close to the bone in our toes and therefore, individuals can develop a bone infection which is significantly more difficult to treat.

When contacting a podiatrist, just make sure you double-check and verify that the person you select for treatment and consultation is in your network and covered by your provider. In Milwaukee, an unethical podiatrist preyed on patients who simply asked if the doctor took their insurance.  His office would always tell clients they took their insurance, because they took any insurance.  However, he would never disclose to patients before their procedure that he was not a part of their network.  Weeks later, patients would get a bill for several thousands of dollars when they would have only had to have paid a couple of hundred dollars in copays had they used a doctor in their network.  In fact, you should contact your insurance provider first to find out who is in your network as this is the best way to protect yourself and your wallet.

Do not allow the fear of visiting a doctor dissuade you from taking care of your health and well-being. It is highly likely that you will be given proper instruction for home-based treatment and prevent the need for a more intensive procedure at a later date.

Traditional Treatment Options for Ingrown Toenails

In the event that surgery to remove your toenail or toenails is needed, there are a few different options at the disposal of your doctor. They primarily consist of:

  • Partial toenail removal
  • Partial toenail and tissue (nail bed) removal
  • Matricectomy or Permanent toenail removal

In minor cases of ingrown toenails, a podiatrist will seek to be as minimally invasive as possible and strive to resolve the patient’s problem through a partial removal of the toenail.  In this procedure, sometimes referred to as a wedge resection, the doctor does not damage the nail bed and merely removes a sliver of the nail alongside the infected side of the toe.  Depending on the severity of the ingrown condition, the entire toenail may be removed. With time, the toe will heal and the nail will grow back normally.  The patient will usually not suffer from a repeated occurrence of ingrown toenails so long as they make the proper lifestyle and wardrobe changes to prevent ingrowing from occurring in the future.

In those few cases when partial toenail removal does not permanently solve the problem or in instances where there is too much damage, a doctor will again perform a partial toenail removal procedure like the one discussed above.  However, this time he will also remove the nail bed for that part of the toenail area and kill any ability for the toe to grow the nail in that area.

More extreme situations call for more aggressive treatment options and this refers to the need to remove the entire nail and destruction of the nail bed via a matricectomy so that the toe is unable to ever regrow nails again. The permanency of the procedure occurs through the use of a laser, a chemical solution called phenol or through your standard surgical cutting method.  Unfortunately, there are no absolutes in this world and even after a patient receives a permanent nail avulsion procedure there are still have been infrequent instances of nail regrowth or partial regrowth.

In all of these cases, your doctor will provide you with a local anesthetic similar to the manner in which a dentist will numb you up before a procedure.

If your doctor prescribes permanent nail removal, you may want to seek out a second opinion.  Unfortunately, this procedure can sometimes leave an aesthetically unappealing look to the toe and this could be especially disheartening to women who enjoy wearing open-toed heels, sandals and other footwear.

Alternative Treatment Options for Ingrown Toenails

Interestingly, there is an alternative to traditional ingrown toenail surgery that is gaining in popularity and centers on the notion that we are diagnosing ingrown toenail ailments incorrectly.  Proponents of the Vandenbos Procedure claim it is superior to traditional treatments outlined above because it treats the real problem, excess and overgrown skin.  Patients who are administered the Vandenbos Procedure do not have their toenails altered in any way.  Instead, the doctors slice away the skin surrounding the nail without touching the actual nail. Once fully healed, the skin surrounding the toenail has a lower profile and heals nice and tight.  It effectively removes the excess skin abutting the nail and pulls the remaining skin away from the nail edge — providing clearance for the toenail to grow unobstructed.

On these pages we will examine a myriad of issues surrounding ingrown toenails and surgical options to remove ingrown toenails.  Please understand that only a doctor doing a one-on-one consultation can provide you with the best and most accurate information for your condition.  Our desire to provide you with quality information free of rhetoric and scare tactics, although well-intentioned, should not serve as the sole source of information you use to self-diagnose your foot problems.

Our primary mission is to educate and motivate you to be proactive in your efforts to seek out professional consultation because ingrown toenails can easily be treated long before you need to actually subject yourself to the inconvenience of surgery. One more cautionary disclosure. While it is true that treating ingrown toenails can be done rather easily, please rely on the advice and direction of a podiatrist.  There are many websites on the internet that advocate and instruct individuals on how to self-diagnose and self-treat their foot ailments.  It is our belief that pursuing these options is foolish and wrought with potential complications and very negative side-effects.  Ultimately, the desire is to alleviate ingrown toenail pain — not exacerbate it!

The cost of ingrown toenail surgery isn’t too bad even if you do not have health insurance. Is saving a few bucks on a copay really worth it? For more information about ingrown toenails, please visit the National Institute of Health’s page on the subject.