Reasons You Feel Pain Under Your Fingernail When Pressed

There are several reasons you may experience pain when you press on your fingernail.

Some are common and can be treated at home, such as an injury. But there may be more serious reasons for fingernail pain that require medical treatment.

Here are seven possible causes of pain under your fingernail when it is pressed and what you should do next.

1. Ingrown fingernail

Ingrown fingernails may occur if you clip or bite your nail too close to the nail bed, you injure it, or you experience a fungal infection.

Ingrown nails are most common on your toes. But they can occur on fingernails too and be very painful when you apply pressure to the nail. It is a common condition that occurs in 2.5 to 5 percent of people.

Symptoms of an ingrown fingernail may include:

  • tenderness
  • bleeding
  • swelling
  • redness
What you can do at home

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Home treatments for ingrown nails include:

  • soaking the finger in warm water twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes
  • applying a topical antibiotic cream to prevent infection
  • wearing a bandage over the area
When to seek medical treatment

Several signs indicate the need for treatment by a doctor. They include:

  • persistent or irritated ingrown fingernails
  • fever
  • increase in finger swelling
  • redness
  • warmth around the area

These may be treated by:

  • prescribing antibiotics or steroids
  • taping the nail
  • inserting a small piece of cotton under the nail
  • performing a procedure that removes part or all of the nail

2. Torn or cracked nail

You might experience pain when pressing on your nail if it is torn or cracked, which can reveal your nail bed.

This can be painful before new skin grows to cover the open and raw area. New skin will grow after a week, and the nail should regenerate or grow over the tender spot after a month or two.

What you can do at home

For tender, exposed skin under the nail bed:

  • Remove any nail that is hanging off your finger with clean tools, such as a nail clipper or nail scissors.
  • Clean and soak the nail in cool water.
  • Use an antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.
  • Cover the area with a bandage while it heals.
When to seek medical treatment

See a doctor if you experience increasing pain or the area does not heal after a week. This can be a sign of an infection that needs to be treated with a prescription.

3. Torn hangnail

Hangnails are the loose bits of skin that surround your fingernail.

Hangnails are common, especially in cold weather when your skin becomes drier.

If you pull or rip them, they can be painful and could lead to infection.

What you can do at home

Keep a torn hangnail clean by washing your hands with soap and water.

Apply antibiotic cream and cover the nail with a bandage.

When to seek medical treatment

Hangnails that still hurt or do not heal after several days may be infected and require a doctor’s treatment.

You may be prescribed a topical or oral antibiotic to clear up the infection.

4. Nail fungus

Nail fungus can cause changes to your fingernail and may result in pain when you press on it.

You may contract fungus from moist environments. Your nail may become discolored, thicker or thinner, or flaky. It may become painful over time if the fungus grows.

What you can do at home

There are over-the-counter or home treatments for nail fungus that you can apply to your nail, such as:

  • tea tree oil
  • oregano oil
  • vinegar
  • vapor rub
When to seek medical treatment

A doctor may prescribe a more potent topical antifungal or an oral antifungal or remove the nail entirely to treat the fungus.

5. Hematoma

A hematoma occurs when you crush your finger or drop something heavy on it. After the trauma, blood or other fluid builds up under your nail, resulting in pain.

It may look like a bruise under your nail. Your fingernail will change color and appear purple, brown, or black.

The hematoma will grow out with your nail over several months.

What you can do at home

You can care for a fingernail hematoma at home by:

  • resting your finger
  • applying a cold compress
  • elevating the finger
  • gently pressing on the nail to reduce further bleeding
  • taking over-the-counter pain medication
When to seek medical treatment

Hematomas that get worse or are extremely painful require medical treatment.

See a doctor if your nail bed is injured. A doctor may decide to drain the hematoma to relieve the pressure that causes pain.

6. Paronychia

Paronychia is swelling around your fingernail or toenail. It can be painful and cause skin redness.

Anyone can experience this condition. It may develop if you get a cut near your nail (acute) or if you participate in activities that leave your hands cold and wet (chronic).

This condition can be caused by fungi, bacteria, or dermatitis.

What you can do at home

Soaking the affected fingernail in warm water for 20 minutes at a time can help relieve symptoms caused by an injury.

Keeping your hands dry and warm will help relieve chronic paronychia. Keeping your nails clean can also help.

When to seek medical treatment

This condition may need to be treated with antibiotics, steroids, antifungals, or other medical interventions such as drainage or nail removal.

7. Subungal tumors

Subungal tumors appear as nodules under the nail and can cause extreme pain under your fingernail.

These tumors may be benign or malignant and may need to be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.

When to seek medical treatment

A doctor can diagnose the tumor with one or several in-office or imaging tests.

A surgeon will likely remove the tumor by taking off all or some of the nail, then entering the exposed skin to remove it.

When should I see a doctor?

Seek immediate medical treatment if:

  • you experience extreme or worsening pain
  • the nail is open or popped out
  • you cannot control bleeding
  • you observe red streaks near the nail
  • you have an excessive amount of swelling
  • you have fingernail pain or injuries that do not heal after a few weeks or longer

The takeaway

There are many reasons you may experience pain under your fingernail when it is pressed, including injury or infection. More serious causes of fingernail pain may include a tumor under the nail.

You may be able to relieve the pain at home with a cold compress or a warm soak. It may be necessary to apply an antibiotic to prevent infection to your nail.

Talk with a doctor if you are in extreme pain or suspect a more serious reason for the symptom.

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