Nailbed Injuries

                                                                                                                           nail avulsion image by Arteestique

Hey Preppers,

As much as we talk about major injuries on this website, mild injuries can be just as damaging to the effectiveness and efficiency of a member of your survival group.  Although perhaps not as life-threatening as a gunshot wound or a fractured thighbone, nailbed injuries are common; they will be more so when we are required to perform carpentry jobs or other duties that we may not be performing on a daily basis now.

Types of Nailbed Injuries

Your fingernails and toenails are made up of protein and a tough substance called keratin, and are similar to the claws of animals.  When we refer to issues involving nails, we refer to it as “ungual” (from the latin word for claw: unguis).

The nail consists of several parts:

The nail plate (body):  this is the hard covering of the end of your finger or toe; what you normally consider to be the nail.

The nailbed:    the skin directly under the nail plate.  Made up of dermis and epidermis just like the rest of your skin, the superficial epidermis moves along with the nail plate as it grows. Vertical grooves attach the superficial epidermis to the deep dermis.  In old folks like me, the nail plate thins out and you can see the grooves if you look closely.  Like all skin, blood vessels and nerves run through the nailbed.

The nail matrix:  the portion or root at the base of the nail under the cuticle (the cuticle is also called the eponychium) that produces new cells for the nail plate.  You can see a portion of the matrix in the  light half-moon (the “lunula”) visible at the base of the nail plate. This is the germinal matrix (actively makes new nail cells) and determines the shape and thickness of the nail; a curved matrix produces a curved nail, a flat one produces a flat nail.

In a nail “avulsion”, the nail plate is ripped away by some form of trauma.  The nail may be partially or completely off, lifted up off the nailbed.  Ordinarily, depending on the type of trauma, an x-ray would be performed to rule out a fracture of the digit; you won’t have this available if modern medical care is not available, but you can do this:

  • Numb the area by providing a digital block (see our recent article:
  • Clean the nailbed thoroughly with saline solution, if available, and irrigate out any debris.  Paint with Betadine (2% Povidone-Iodine solution).
  • Cover the exposed (and very sensitive) nailbed with a non-adherent (telfa) dressing.  Some use a non-adherent dressing with Vaseline  as a covering. Change frequently.  Avoid ordinary gauze, as it will stick tenaciously and be painful to remove.
  • If the nail plate is hanging on by a thread, remove it by separating it from the skin folds by using a hemostat.  You can consider placing the avulsed nail plate on the nailbed as a protective covering (it is dead tissue but may be the most comfortable option).  Avoid scraping off loose edges (called debridement), as it may affect the nailbed’s ability to heal.
  • If the nailbed is lacerated, suture (if clean) with the thinnest gauge absorbable suture available (6-0 Vicryl is good).  Be sure to remove any nail plate tissue over the laceration so the suture repair will be complete.
  • Place a fingertip dressing.  Some will immobilze the digit with a finger splint to protect from further damage.
  • A contaminated wound will require antibiotics

Nailbeds and Crush Injuries

In some crush injuries, such as striking the nail plate with a hammer, a bruise (also called an “ecchymosis”) or a collection of blood may form underneath (a “hematoma”).  A bruise will be painful, but the pain should subside within an hour or two.  A hematoma will continue to be painful, even several hours after the event.  A bruise will likely appear brownish or blueish, but a hematoma may appear a deep blue-black.

                                                                                                                                                          Nail Hematoma – source:

For a bruised nail, little needs to be done other than given oral pain relief, such as Ibuprofen.  In a significant hematoma, however, some suggest a further procedure called “trephination”.  In this instance, a very fine drill (or a hot 18 gauge needle or paper clip) is used to make a hole in the nail plate large enough to relieve pressure from the blood that has collected under the nail.  It should not be too painful if you don’t go too far in. This will require Betadine, but should not be performed unless absolutely necessary; if you go too deep through the nail, you may further injure the nail bed.  The finger must be kept dry, splinted and bandaged for a minimum of 48 hours afterwards.  Most inexperienced medics should avoid this procedure except in the most severe cases, as the pain will usually decrease over time even if you do nothing.

It’s important to know that damage to the base of the nail (the germinal matrix) may be difficult to completely repair, and that future nail growth may be deformed in some way. In situations where modern medical care is available, a hand surgeon is often called in to give the injury the best chance to heal appropriately.  Even then, a higher incidence of issues such as “ingrown” nails may occur.  A completely torn-off nail will take 4-5 months to grow back.

Remember, don’t try this at home, folks, unless the poop has truly hit the propellor.

Dr. Bones



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8 Responses to “Nailbed Injuries”

  1. Grossyi says:

      Just wanted to let you know that I read your articles religously.Though I haven’t commented previously I just wanted to let you know that your efforts are truely appreciated.. As an experienced ER RN much of the information is not new to me however anything I learn is extremely helpful especially with a prepper mindset.

    • Dr Bones says:

       Hi Grossyi,

      Thanks for the kind words and support and, especially, thank you for being willing to use your medical training to help us keep people healthy in the event of a collapse.

      all the best,

      Dr. Bones

  2. Rose says:

    My name is Sybol and I have just a couple of questions. Last night at work I hit my nail while cleaning a stove, it was bleeding under neath the acrylic nail I have on top what should I do? My hand is sore and my finger is swollen,
    If you can help me out I would love it!!

    • Dr Bones says:

      Hi Sybol,
      Our focus is to help people when there is no modern medical help available. I think you should seek medical help immediately, and on the way, please apply ICE and pressure to stop the bleeding. Thanks, Nurse Amy

  3. Alexandra Knickerbocker says:

    Im an exotic dancer and i often wear acrylics. I accidently ripped my acrylic/real nail up from dancing. I could push it all the way back with it seperating from my finger. So with it hanging there i chose to remove it. I was going to pull it off when the edge of it under my skin came up with it. My nail, including my nail bed underneath my skin came off. Will my nail be able to grow back at all? My skin isnt cut. The nail bed literally slid up with it.

    • Dr Bones says:

      Hi Alexandra,

      The nail will, indeed, grow back although it may take close to a year. If you damaged the nail bed (the part under the skin), it’s possible that it may appear a little irregular but shouldn’t have any health effects otherwise.

      Dr. Bones

  4. Melinda says:

    Dr bones, I fell and a small table fell onto my left ring finger , leaving a “dent” on the skin between the cuticle and first knuckle. I iced it, it bruised and got better. The dent grew out thru my nail, however my nail is flattened and my fingertip still looks a tiny bit swollen. No pain even if put pressure on it. Will this ever go back to normal?

    • Dr Bones says:

      Hi Melinda,

      It’s possible that you damaged the nail bed, which is VERY difficult if not impossible to repair. If this is the case, the nail will always appear irregular. I am less certain as to why the fingertip would be swollen, however. Have your doctor take a look at it, perhaps you fractured the very end of the bone? An x-ray will tell. If the area appears red, you could have an infection in the soft tissues and need antibiotic therapy.

      Dr. Bones

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