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Are You at Risk of Skier’s Toe? Find Out How to Protect Your Feet on the Slopes

by Megan Coles | Published: December 12th, 2022
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Ski boots are known for being uncomfortable, and our feet always seem to be the part of our body that suffers the most when skiing. Whether it’s numb toes from the cold, blisters on your heels, or sometimes worse, we’ve all suffered through the foot pains of skiing. 

Skier’s toe is one of the most common skiing foot injuries and is generally caused by ill-fitting ski boots. The injury creates a bleed in the nail bed causing the toenail to turn black in color. The symptoms will either grow out naturally or can be treated by a professional. 

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to avoid a skier’s toe which will also help prevent many other common foot injuries picked up whilst skiing. 

Medical Disclaimer: The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.

What is Skier’s Toe?

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Scientifically known as a subungual hematoma, skier’s toe, or runner’s toe, develops from repetitive pressure to the toenail, causing it to bleed and appear black in color. 

The blackness of the toenail is due to a build-up of blood in the nail bed, caused by trauma to the toenail, then leaking under the nail and becoming trapped. Our toenails are composed of 20% soft keratin and 80% hard keratin; when you have a skier’s toe, this keratin is stained by the blood resulting in this dark coloring. 

The Science Behind Skier’s Toe

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The black appearance of the toenail can be alarming and may seem like you’ve acquired a severe injury, but a skier’s toe is common and generally not serious. Aside from your affected toe feeling uncomfortable, you shouldn’t experience any pain with the skier’s toe. 

Skier’s toe can affect any toe and more than one at once; predominantly, it will affect the big toe as it is the most forward set. 

Skier’s toe usually develops due to ill-fitting ski boots, both if they’re too big or too small. The pinching sensation that comes from wearing ski boots that are too small may result in a skier’s toe, alternatively, ski boots that are too large will cause your foot to slide around the boot and hit the end of the ski boot with force. If you recognize either of these sensations while skiing then stops skiing and source an alternative boot. 

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How To Treat Skier’s Toe

Ski boot

In most cases, there’s not much that can be done to treat a skier’s toe other than giving it time. Once your toenail begins to grow, the stained keratin will grow out and be replaced by a new unstained toenail; this can take up to 12 months, depending on which toe has the injury.

This may seem like a long time, but the discomfort from the initial trauma should pass quickly, and you’ll just be left with the aesthetic of the injury. 

If the initial injury becomes painful rather than merely uncomfortable, then do not try to treat the injury yourself. Allow a professional to deal with your skier’s toe, as taking matters into your own hands increases the risk of infection, which could result in something more serious.

You will likely be referred to a podiatrist, a doctor who specializes in the medical and surgical treatment of feet. 

If the skier’s toe is causing you pain the podiatrist may drain the fluid that is under the toenail by drilling a hole into the nail using sterile equipment. In the most severe cases, the toenail itself may need to be removed, but this is rare. 

Also, note that a darkened nail could indicate something more serious such as malignant melanoma; this will be in the rarest cases, but if you’re concerned about the state of your toenail, then consult medical professionals. 

How To Prevent Skier’s Toe

Orange Ski Boot

There are many ways to help prevent getting a skier’s toe which in turn will also assist in preventing other common skiing foot injuries, such as blisters and bunions.

Ski boot

The most common reason for a skier’s toe is wearing an ill-fitting ski boot. A rental boot or your own boot should fit appropriately for your foot shape and size.

Socks

Wear socks specifically for skiing; they don’t need to be thick. Many skiers prefer thinner socks and avoid cushioned ones as they can create uneven pressure throughout the foot. 

Foot Care

Looking after your feet by making sure your toenails are trimmed when wearing a ski boot can be important. If your nail is too long it’s more likely to be touching and creating pressure at the end of the boot.

See Also:  What is the Kinetic Energy of an Average Skier? Free Calculator

How Do I Know If My Ski Boots Fit Correctly?

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One of the main ways people develop skier’s toe is from wearing poorly fitting boots to ski, but as ski boots are known for being uncomfortable, how are you meant to know when they don’t fit? Well, there are several things to look out for.

First of all, whether you’re getting fitted for rental boots or buying your own, always get a ski technician to help you out. They are trained in all things ski boots and will help guide you toward the perfect fitting boot. 

Your perfect ski boot should be a snug fit even when it’s not done up, and when the boot is clasped you shouldn’t be able to lift your heels any more than a centimeter. Test out the fit by leaning into your shins, when doing this you don’t want your toes to touch the end but want a very small space in between your toes and the end of the boot. 

Look out for hotspots when trying on ski boots. Hotspots are specific areas where you can feel the pressure more than on any other part of your foot, commonly this will be on the heels, shins, or big toes. If you can feel a hotspot then this is a sign that your boots don’t fit correctly. 

When trying on rental boots, don’t be afraid to point out areas that are causing discomfort whether it be during your boot fitting or once you’ve skied with them. It’s most likely that rental boots won’t fit like a glove but you shouldn’t be experiencing any pain. Rental shops should allow you to swap your boots as much as you see necessary. 

Choosing Ski Boots

If you’re looking to buy a pair of ski boots my number one piece of advice that not everyone wants to hear, including myself, is to not pick them based on what they look like. The most stylish-looking boots may not be the ones for you, brands and models vary greatly in their sizes, narrowness, and overall fit. If you’ve got particularly wide or thin feet then there may only be a few options for your foot type. 

The ski boot brand Lange has created their LV range, standing for low volume, which is specifically made for people with low-profile feet which refers to a narrow foot when measured from the floor to the top of the foot (the talus). If this sounds like your foot type then check out the Lange LV range.

If you’re buying ski boots, get a custom insole, this is of equal importance to choosing the correct boot. Your feet will be measured and molded to create your custom insole which then goes in your boot permanently. It will give you the correct arch support allowing your boot to fit like a glove.

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Should I Worry If I’ve Got A Skier’s Toe?

Despite its appearance, a skier’s toe is a minor foot injury that causes discomfort and may result in having to take it easy whilst skiing. If your symptoms are painful and completely preventing you from skiing then seek medical care from a doctor where your skier’s toe can be appropriately treated. 

Skiing shouldn’t be painful so take measures to ensure you’ve got correctly fitting ski boots whether you’re using rentals or buying your own.

Let’s Recap

Skiers ToeKey Information
DefinitionSkiers toe is a condition that occurs when the toe bones are squeezed together, often causing pain and discomfort.
CausesSkiers toe is often caused by the repetitive stress of skiing, as well as by wearing tight or ill-fitting ski boots.
SymptomsSymptoms of skiers toe may include pain and swelling in the toes, difficulty moving the toes, and numbness or tingling in the affected area.
TreatmentTreatment for skiers toe may include rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relievers. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the condition.

Key Skiers Toe Questions Answered

Q: What is skiers toe?

A: Skiers toe is a condition that occurs when the toe bones are squeezed together, often causing pain and discomfort.

Q: What causes skiers toe?

A: Skiers toe is often caused by the repetitive stress of skiing, as well as by wearing tight or ill-fitting ski boots.

Q: What are the symptoms of skiers toe?

A: Symptoms of skiers toe may include pain and swelling in the toes, difficulty moving the toes, and numbness or tingling in the affected area.

Q: How is skiers toe treated?

A: Treatment for skiers toe may include rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relievers. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the condition.

Q: Is skiers toe a serious condition?

A: Skiers toe can be painful and uncomfortable, but it is generally not considered a serious condition. However, if left untreated, it can lead to more serious problems such as difficulty walking or permanent damage to the toes. It is important to seek treatment if you are experiencing symptoms of skiers toe.

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