Black toenails are a common enough injury among skiers that doctors refer to them as "skiers' toe." Although not as dramatic as other common ski injuries like ruptured knee ligaments, skier's toe can be painful enough to keep you off the slopes, and sometimes even lead to losing toenails.
What Blackens Toenails?
What turns a toenail black is bleeding under the nail, or what doctors call a subungual hematoma. Either a single intense impact or small repeated traumas can cause blood vessels in your toe to rupture and bleed under your toenail. The pressure of the trapped blood increases the pain.
Check Your Boot Fit
A common cause of skier's toe is bad boot fit. If your boots are too tight in the toe area, they may put pressure on your toenail, causing bruising or bleeding under the nail. Boots that are too loose, or that have packed-out liners, are just as bad. If your foot is flopping around inside your boot, your toenails can get bruised from the impact of your toes banging into the boots, especially if you are skiing bumps or terrain parks. A boot fitter can adjust your boots to prevent toenail damage.
Improper Ski Technique
Sitting back on your skis not only throws you off balance and causes you to lose control, it can injure your toenails by forcing them up against the tops of your boots. Especially on advanced terrain, the solution is to keep your weight centered, maintaining forward pressure of your shins against your boots and keeping your heels set in the boots' heel pockets. If you are struggling with proper powder or mogul technique, investing an hour in a ski lesson could save your toenails.
Long toenails act as a lever, intensifying the pressure of your boots against the nail beds. Do yourself a favor and clip long toe talons. Closely clipped toenails will reduce your chances of black toenails.
Treating Black Toenails
The sooner you treat black toenails, the faster they heal. If your entire toenail is black, go to a doctor immediately. She will burn a small hole in the nail to release to trapped blood, relieving pain and helping the toe heal. For minor bruising, apply ice for twenty minutes every hour to reduce swelling and bleeding.