7 Possible Causes of Fingernail Pain

Fingernail pain is a common problem that can range from mild to severe. Fingernail pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including injury, infection, or an underlying medical condition, and in most cases, is temporarly managed with simple home remedies.

There are certain body parts you expect will hurt at some point in life, such as your calves following an especially intense hills run or your shoulders after a heavy lifting season. But odds are your nails aren’t one of them — after all, nails are supposed to be made of dead skin cells. So, what’s the deal if you find yourself asking “why do my nails hurt?”

Fingernail pain, albeit oftentimes confusing and seemingly random, happens more often than you might realize. In fact, dermatologists “see it pretty often,” says Teo Soleymani, M.D., a dermatologist at UCLA Health. But despite such prevalence, if your appendages are aching, you’re likely eager to, err, nail down the answer to your question, “why do my nails hurt?” Good news: You’ve come to the right place.

Ahead, experts explain seven potential reasons for your nail discomfort and how to treat each.

What Are Fingernails Made Of?

A tough protective protein called keratin, which is also found in the hair and skin, is produced in the nail matrix, which is the area under the skin at the base of the nail, and is what makes fingernails. The nail matrix is responsible for producing new cells that push out the nail plate as the nail grows.

Nails are made up of four distinct layers: the nail plate, the nail bed, the nail matrix and the hyponychium. Together, these layers make up the fingernail and are essential for healthy nails. The nail plate is the visible part of the nail and is made up of tightly packed dead skin cells that have hardened due to the presence of keratin. Nail bed is the skin beneath the nail plate and contains a network of tiny blood vessels and nerves that provide nutrition and sensation. The nail matrix is the area beneath the skin at the base of the nail and is responsible for producing new cells that push out the nail plate as the nail grows.

Finally, the hyponychium is the layer of skin where the nail plate attaches to the finger. Fingernails are a protective layer of keratin that can help to keep dirt, bacteria and other harmful elements from entering the body. Fingernails can also be used for communication, aesthetic and grooming purposes. People may use their fingernails to express themselves through art, fashion or to simply keep their hands looking neat and clean.

person s hand with pink manicure
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on

7 Reasons You’re Experiencing Fingernail Pain

There are a bunch of different answers to your question, “why do my nails hurt?” and each operates a little differently. Here’s a breakdown of some of the more common causes of fingernail pain you may come across:


Paronychia is a nail condition that affects the skin around the fingernails or toenails. It is a common condition caused by a bacterial or fungal infection and is characterized by inflammation, swelling, and tenderness in the affected area. Paronychia can occur in both adults and children, although it is more common in adults. The most common cause of paronychia is trauma to the nail folds. This could include biting, picking, or injury to the nail or surrounding skin.

Fungal and bacterial infections may also lead to paronychia. Fungal infections are typically caused by nail polish, nail biting, and poor hygiene. Bacterial infections are more likely to occur when the skin is broken due to injury. Paronychia can be treated with antibiotics, antifungal medications, or both. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the infected tissue. It is important to keep the nails clean and dry. This can help prevent the spread of infection.

Applying warm compresses to the affected area can also help reduce inflammation and pain. In severe cases, a doctor may need to drain the infection by making a small incision in the skin. Paronychia can be a painful and irritating condition. However, with proper treatment and prevention, it can be managed. If you think you may have paronychia, it is important to seek medical attention right away.

2.Fungal Nail Infection

Fungal nail infection, also known as onychomycosis, is a common condition that affects the fingernail pain of the hands and feet. It is caused by a type of fungus called a dermatophyte, which can grow in the nails and surrounding skin. Fungal nail infection can cause the nails to become discolored, thickened, and brittle. It can also cause pain and irritation.

Fungal nail infection is usually caused by warm, damp conditions, such as those found in showers and swimming pools. People who have poor hygiene, or who wear tight or restrictive footwear, are also more likely to develop a fungal nail infection. Fungal nail infection is usually treated with antifungal medications. These medications can be taken orally or applied directly to the affected nail. In some cases, the nail may need to be removed or trimmed to allow the medication to reach the infection.

Fungal nail infection can be prevented by keeping the feet and nails clean and dry. Avoiding tight or restrictive footwear and wearing socks and shoes that allow the feet to breathe can also help. It is also important to avoid walking barefoot in public showers and swimming pools. Anyone with a weakened immune system should take extra precautions to prevent a fungal nail infection.

3.Gel Manicure

A gel manicure is a type of nail treatment that uses a gel polish to create a glossy, long-lasting finish. The gel polish is applied in thin layers and is cured with a special LED or UV light after each layer. The curing process helps the polish to set quickly and last for several weeks without chipping or fading. Gel manicures are popular because they offer a glossy, salon-quality look that can last for weeks.

Additionally, the gel polish is applied in thin layers, which helps to preserve the natural fingernail pain and prevent damage. Gel manicures are usually done in a salon or spa, but they can also be done at home with the right supplies. At home, the nails should be cleansed and prepped before the gel is applied. After the gel is applied, it is cured with a special LED or UV light.

The nails should then be wiped off with an isopropyl alcohol wipe and a top coat can be applied to seal the gel and provide an extra glossy finish. Gel manicures can last for up to two weeks with proper care. It is important to avoid exposure to water, chemicals, and rough surfaces, which can shorten the life of the manicure. It is also important to use a gentle nail polish remover to remove the gel when it’s time to change the color or design.


A hangnail is a small piece of skin that hangs off the side of a nail. Hangnails can be painful and can even lead to infection if not treated properly. They are most common on the fingers and toes, but can also occur on other areas of the body, such as the face or neck. Hangnails are caused by dry skin that has become brittle and separated from the fingernail pain bed. This can be caused by environmental factors, such as cold temperatures and low humidity, or by a lack of moisture in the skin.

Other factors that can contribute to hangnails are excessive washing, long-term exposure to water, and certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema. The best way to treat a hangnail is to keep the nail and surrounding skin well-moisturized. Applying a thick cream or ointment to the affected area can help to soften the skin and reduce the risk of infection. It is also important to avoid picking or biting the hangnail, as this can cause further damage and increase the risk of infection. If infection does occur, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics or other medications to help clear it up.


Nail trauma is any damage to the nail or nail bed that is caused by physical force. This could include injuries due to blunt force, such as banging the finger against a hard surface, or due to sharp force, such as a cut or puncture. Nail trauma can cause pain, swelling, and bleeding in the affected area. Nail trauma can lead to a variety of complications including infection, nail deformity, and permanent nail loss.

Infection is one of the most common complications and can be caused by dirt or bacteria entering the wound. Nail deformity can also occur if the injury causes the nail to become misshapen or discolored. In some cases, the nail may even fall off permanently. It is important to seek medical attention for any nail trauma. Depending on the severity of the injury, a doctor may recommend antibiotics or other treatments.

In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the damage. To prevent nail trauma, it is important to wear protective footwear and gloves when engaging in activities that may cause injury. It is also important to practice proper nail care, such as keeping the nails trimmed and clean. Taking these precautions can help to reduce the risk of nail trauma and its complications.


Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that is characterized by itchy, scaly patches on the skin. It can also affect the nails, causing the nails to become discolored, thickened, and brittle. Psoriasis of the nails is also known as nail psoriasis or onychomycosis. The exact cause of psoriasis is unknown, but genetics and environment are believed to play a role.

People with psoriasis of the nails may also experience pain and discomfort in the affected area. Treatment for psoriasis of the nails can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Medications, such as topical creams, light therapy, and oral medications, may be prescribed. Surgery may be necessary in severe cases. It is important to keep the nails clean and dry to reduce the risk of infection.

Applying moisturizer to the affected nails can also help to reduce itching and flaking. Avoiding trauma to the nails, such as biting or picking, is also important. Psoriasis of the nails can be a difficult and uncomfortable condition, but with proper treatment and care, it can be managed. If you think you may have psoriasis of the nails, it is important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.


Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is a highly effective treatment option but can cause many side effects, including changes to the nails. Chemotherapy can cause the nails to become brittle, discolored, and thicker than normal. It can also cause the nail bed to become inflamed, painful, or even ulcerate.

Chemotherapy-related nail changes can be temporary or permanent. In most cases, the changes will resolve once the chemotherapy has ended. However, some people may experience long-term damage to their nails, such as permanent discoloration or thickening. To help manage chemotherapy-related nail changes, it is important to keep the nails clean and dry.

Applying moisturizer to the affected nails can also help to reduce itching and flaking. Avoiding trauma to the nails, such as biting or picking, is also important. If you are receiving chemotherapy, it is important to talk to your doctor about nail care and any other side effects you may be experiencing. With the right care, chemotherapy-related nail changes can be managed and the nails can be kept healthy.

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