It’s a common conversation among climbers… the pains of our feet. Our feet go through so much when climbing. We put all our faith into our 10 little piggies. But what happens when you have problems with your toenails while climbing?
One of the biggest gripes is that of an ingrown toenail. This can feel like murder, whether you’re in the middle of a climb or simply carrying groceries from your car — another common toe problem: fungus. Fungal infections, when left untreated, can cause your toenails to fall off or even require surgery to have them removed.
Climbing shoes may also be to blame if you choose poorly. You should definitely check out our guide to how to choose the right climbing shoes for you. They should be tight but not so tight that they cause you never-ending pain. When you wear them too tight, they can cause problems for your toenails.
You’d think going without climbing shoes at all would be a good idea to prevent any shoe-related toenail problems, but nope. Shoes serve as a protective measure for your feet, and in climbing, that’s no exception. Going barefoot only keeps your toes exposed to the dangers and forces your toes to work separately instead of together, which won’t really help you while you’re climbing. Plus, if you rip a toenail off while climbing, that would be the next biggest buzzkill next to falling.
So let’s say you need to have your toenail removed for whatever reason. When can you get back to climbing? What happens next? Lots of questions, we’re sure, so keep reading to find out more!
Preventing climbing-related toenail problems
The first step is obviously prevention. As soon as you notice an ingrown toenail, it’s recommended that you try to cut it straight across to keep that from happening. A good soak in warm saltwater can be healing too. You’ll want to take it easy and let it heal up before putting pressure on it again. If you take care of it right away, you shouldn’t have any more problems.
The group is pretty split though on the length of your toenails. After all, toenails are designed to protect your toes. Some say cutting them as short as possible is the key. Others recommend that for the big toes, you let them grow long to prevent toe pain.
And everyone is pretty convinced that when your shoes don’t fit right – either too tight (which is the worst!) or too loose, it will lead to toenail problems. By far, climbing shoes that are consistently too tight can cause so much pressure that your toenails can fall off.
When it’s inevitable that you’re going to need to have that toenail removed though, you’ll have to take it easy and take steps to take care of it. Keep reading to find out what you’ll need to do for a speedier recovery.
Home care the day after toenail removal
Once you get home from having your toenail removed, you’ll have to be extra tender to your toes. The day after, your doctor will likely advise you to remove your bandages and soak your toe.
– Remove all of the bandaging
Climbers that undergo toenail removal must take care to get all the bandaging material off the toe. Soaking it in warm water can help get any stubborn material off.
– Use Epsom salts
Epsom salts are incredibly healing, so it makes sense that using them on your sore climbing toe after toenail removal surgery is recommended. Use a big bowl with warm water and 2 teaspoons of Epsom salts and soak your foot in there for 15 minutes.
– Prepare new bandaging
If you want to heal quickly so you can get closer to going climbing again, make sure you dry your foot off very well before applying a new bandage. Use antibiotic ointment on the spot where your toenail once was, then put a silk square bandage on it.
– Cover it with a toe sock
You should put a toe sock on your toe and then loosely tape it in place. The key is LOOSE because too tight will impede the healing process.
– Keep it up until the doctor says so
You should repeat this process daily until your doctor has reexamined your toenail situation and deemed it healing properly. Follow everything you’re told by your physician to ensure your toenail heals. You won’t be able to go climbing again until you take good care of your toe.
Giving medicine after toenail removal
There’s really no way to sugarcoat this. Toenail removal is going to hurt. You might not feel it while the doctor is working on your toe, but afterward, it can be very sore. No matter how tough you are when climbing, that pain can be unbearable.
Your doctor will likely give you 2 types of medication. One will be an antibiotic which is, of course, good for preventing infection or clearing up any infections that caused you to have your toenail surgically removed. The other type will be pain medication. It depends on the extent of your damage and your doctor as to which pain medication you’ll be given.
Follow all directions for taking both of these prescriptions to help speed up your recovery. The longer it takes you to get better, the longer it will be before you can get on your favorite route again. If you feel better, you can stop taking the pain medication, but all antibiotics should be taken until they’re gone. It helps stave off infection. You don’t need more toe problems, do you?
Toenail surgery – how long until I can get back to climbing?
The obvious answer is that you’re just going to have to be patient and wait for at least 3 weeks before getting back to climbing. But just because you’ve finished the antibiotics and the doctor has deemed your toenail to be healing well doesn’t mean it’s time to slap on your climbing shoes and go for it.
It will all depend on several interlinking factors. One of them is pain, which is also obvious. But the other depends on how invasive the surgery is and how extensive your toenail damage was before removal. Generally-speaking, it could take about a week and a half before your toe feels better to the point where you could just walk around.
Baby steps are key to ensuring your toenail continues to heal. So just because you feel fine walking around your house, walking around your office, or even up and down your street doesn’t mean it’s a good time to get back out climbing just yet.
With foot surgery of any kind, especially on the toes, infection is a very real possibility. You want to really give it time to get back to normal before you tax it with all that pushing and pulling you put it through on a climb. And then there’s the sweat! Trust us, giving it time to properly heal up all the way will prevent any future problems. Do you really want to go through this ordeal again? We didn’t think so!
You’ll likely need to keep from climbing for several weeks. You can also ask your doctor when you can resume climbing to make sure you don’t run into any more toenail problems.
What to expect
Toe surgery recovery takes place in the hospital (24 hours) until you’re discharged to go home. You’ll need to keep your foot elevated and rest right after the surgery. The hospital will make sure you do that. Bring plenty of reading materials, music, or other things that make you comfortable.
Plan on refraining from walking any great lengths for at least the first week. You’ll need to take the bandage off when you get home from the hospital once it’s been 24 hours. And you’ll need to follow the changing procedure of the bandage religiously as detailed above. When you follow everything you should do properly, you can expect your nail to be healed in about 6 to 12 weeks. That doesn’t mean you need to stay away from climbing for that long. Again, asking your doctor about it during your follow-up appointment can help you have a better idea of when you can plan your next climbing excursion.
Our advice is definitely to take it slow. Once you are more recovered, you can get your feet back into shape for climbing by taking short and simple hikes, gradually increasing the difficulty. If you push yourself too hard, you could reinjure the tender area and cause yourself to have more downtime off the climbing wall.
What you can do to get back on the climbing wall quicker
It’s definitely a drag to have to sit out from climbing, but in the long-run, things will be better for your toenail if you just take it easy and allow it to heal. You can do a few things though to help speed up your recovery and get you there faster.
– Eat nutritiously
Your nutrition is so important as you recover from your toenail surgery, especially if you want to get back to climbing sooner rather than later. Your diet should be full of protein and high in healthy calories. Choose things like lean meat, eggs, milk, cheese, and soybeans. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also good to help you get more vitamins and minerals that your body needs, boosting your circulation to help deliver oxygen around your body to speed up healing.
– Keep off that foot
Initially, you’ll need to take it easy. Stay off your feet and follow doctor’s orders. In the first 24 hours, it’s imperative you keep off that foot. Depending on how severe your surgery was, you may need more time off your feet. As you heal, though, you’ll be able to move around more.
– Keep it elevated
Getting rest is important now. Keep your foot elevated above heart level for better circulation and healing.
– Follow proper wound care
As we discussed above, it’s so important to keep the wound clean and dressed properly. This will speed up the healing process and get you back on your feet again.
– Take that medication
Your toenail should start feeling better and better with each passing day after the surgery. Be sure you never miss your antibiotics and take them until the bottle is empty. You can use your discretion with your pain medicine though, and only take it if you feel discomfort. If the pain medication your doctor prescribed isn’t helping or you start feeling worse, you should definitely contact your doctor ASAP.
– Wear the right shoes
Sorry, no climbing shoes right now. No loafers or high heels either. You need to keep your shoes loose-fitting in nature. Sneakers that aren’t tight are ideal for the first couple of weeks following your toenail surgery.
What to avoid when getting back to climbing after toenail removal
Once you’ve allowed healing to occur and your doctor sees no problems with it, you can get back to climbing. Remember to take it slow. You might be an experienced climber, but pushing yourself to new heights when you’re just getting back to it is a recipe for disaster.
When not climbing, avoid any tight-fitting shoes. For lady climbers, you might have to forgo your high-heeled shoes for a while or compromise on climbing. And for climbing shoes, please make sure you’ve got a good fit that’s snug without being too tight. They should never hurt!
Right after the surgery, you should avoid all strenuous activity too. Even things like running or aerobic workouts that involve jumping need to be passed up. Give it about 2 weeks and then ease into activities. Walking is a good one to start with to help work your stamina back up and get back on your feet.
There are many reasons why you might need a toenail removed due to a climbing injury or an infection from an ingrown toenail. Sometimes it’s because your climbing shoes are too tight. Other times, you may suffer an injury while climbing that leaves you with no choice but to have that toenail removed.
No matter what though, many people have toenail removal surgery. It’s not the end of the world as you’ll be able to climb again. The hardest part will be the waiting of course, but in the end, it will be all worth it if you allow your foot to heal so you can enjoy doing what you love.