Why Do Toenails Thicken As We Age?

Did you know that normal toenail growth rate averages approximately 1mm per month!

Interestingly, with advancing age (starting from ~25yo) this growth rate tends to gradually decrease by about 0.5% per year.  So, by the time we reach 85yo our toenails are growing at about half the rate they were when we were 25yo!  Over time, slow nail growth results in unsightly, thickened toenails.  

There are a number of reasons that our nail growth prematurely slows over our lifespan.  Most commonly slow toenail growth rate is due to reduced blood circulation to the toes, but as we age we also have an increased incidence of chronic disease (eg diabetes, anaemia, osteoporosis, psoriasis, vasular disease etc) that results in slower growth leading to thickened toenails.

Not only is the growth rate affected by age, but also the texture of the nail.  There is usually a tendency for the normally smooth nail plate texture to become progressively more friable with increasing age resulting in nail fissuring, splitting and ridging. As the nail becomes thicker and more friable it then becomes a prime target for a fungal infection to invade the compromised nail, causing yellow discolouration, thickening, crumbling and lifting of the nail from the nail bed.  

Ageing toenails can become very difficult to safely care for at home and can cause pain, affecting your balance and increasing your falls risk and can also increase the likelihood of ulcerations forming under the nail.  

We can’t avoid the ageing process but there are certainly ways to improve the healthy appearance of your toenails, minimise pain or discomfort and reduce the risk of ulcerations and infections from occurring.  Our Podiatrists are experienced health professionals that provide expert pain-free and safe nail care for all, keeping our ageing patients active, comfortable and healthy. 

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