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Understanding Nail Clubbing: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

Understanding Nail Clubbing

Our nails reveal intriguing insights about our health. For example, if you see fingernails or toenails that are rounded like an upside-down spoon, that’s nail clubbing. This phenomenon can be a telltale sign of underlying serious health conditions.

As nail technicians and enthusiasts, we’re not only focused on the latest colors or trends. We’re also into understanding the science behind our nails and what they can reveal about our overall health. In this article, we’ll explore the causes, symptoms, and how to manage nail clubbing. We’ll also discuss what steps to take if you or a client shows signs of this condition.

Nail Clubbing

What Are the Symptoms of Nail Clubbing?

It’s an unusual name for a serious issue. This condition reveals itself as swollen, widened, rounded nails. The fingertips or toes may be reddish, too warm, and too soft like a sponge. The nail itself may feel like it’s floating. Thankfully, nail clubbing isn’t usually painful.

While clubbing may start with just a couple of nails, especially a thumb or index finger, it can eventually affect the others.

In the beginning stages, the nails might simply look too flat when seen from the side. They won’t have that little dip near the cuticle. Moreover, as the root starts to separate from the fingertip, the nails end up feeling like they are springy.

Eventually, the tip of the nail curves downward over the end of the finger or toe. The nail may become extra shiny. And instead of flat, the bulging nail will slope up sharply from the cuticle toward the midpoint.

What Causes Clubbed Nails?

Nail clubbing is associated with a chronic lack of oxygen because of vascular abnormalities. The nails aren’t getting proper blood flow and the blood vessels have enlarged to compensate. Furthermore, the blood may have too many prostaglandins and other growth factors. For instance, there are cells called megakaryocytes in the lungs. When the lungs are ill and can’t process them, these cells escape to fingers and toes. There they release chemicals like PDGF and VEGF that alter the tissues and cause the abnormal growth.

So, nail clubbing can happen because of various health conditions like lung disorders, heart problems, hyperthyroidism, and gastrointestinal issues like Crohn’s disease. Also, some people may inherit a genetic predisposition for nail clubbing from their parents.

Spotting Nail Clubbing Saves Lives

If you point out that your own or someone else’s nails are flattening out, feeling too springy, or have already become rounded and swollen, you might save a life. Nail clubbing can provide clues about someone’s health. It can indicate the severity of certain diseases. As you’re doing nail care, you're uniquely positioned to see and recognize these changes. You could play a crucial role in prompting someone to seek necessary medical treatment.

Here's an easy way to check for fingernail clubbing in the early phase: place the index fingers back-to-back. If you can see a diamond-shaped space between them, the nails are probably not clubbed. This is called Schamroth’s sign and it’s pretty accurate, but not perfect. So, the person should still seek a diagnosis to be sure.

How to Manage Nail Clubbing

Nail clubbing itself is not a condition that requires direct treatment like a fungal infection or nail psoriasis. Instead, it’s essential to focus on the underlying cause. A person with clubbed nails needs care for the disease that’s triggering the clubbing. Then, that will help the nails recover. Therefore, if the clubbing is caused by heart or lung disease, for example, they may need medication.

In the meantime, there are still things you can do to help the person with clubbed nails. First and foremost, encourage them to seek medical attention.

Next, they may feel sensitive about how their nails look. Show them concern and kindness. There are ways to make clubbed nails look healthier.

For example, if their health allows, they may enjoy wearing extensions that disguise the shape. Soft gel extensions are a convenient choice as they come in many shapes and sizes and are straightforward to apply.

Lavis Soft Gel

Lavis Soft Gel


Alternatively, it’s possible to paint nails to make them look narrower. This is as easy as using a vibrant polish and leaving a narrow gap on either side to create the illusion.

LDS Color Craze - Healthy Gel Collection

LDS Color Craze - Healthy Gel Collection


You may find that cat eye polish is an excellent choice as it can create stunning designs that capture the attention. Or line art gel makes it easier to draw intricate nail art as the narrow brush provides fine control.

LDS Pearl Veil Cat Eye Collection

LDS Pearl Veil Cat Eye Collection


Line Art Gel

Line Art Gel


Also, encourage them to take good care of their nails and skin. It’s challenging to trim clubbed nails. They may need to use specialized clippers. It helps to soak the nails in warm water for ten minutes to soften them first.

Finally, pat the nails dry and clip them straight across. Use a nail file to round the corners slightly. And push back the cuticles as they may have grown down over the nails.

Finish up with cuticle oil and moisturizer because they are beneficial for clubbed fingers and toes. The simple act of massaging in these products improves blood flow and the hydrated skin will feel more comfortable.

Nail Clubbing in a Nutshell

  • Fingernails or toenails become wider and rounded like an upside-down spoon.
  • Clubbing is a sign of serious underlying health conditions.
  • In early stages, only the thumb or index finger or first two toes may appear flatter. The swelling and curvature come later.
  • Rule out clubbing by looking at the nails from the side—is there a natural dip by the cuticle? What about when they are placed back-to-back—is there a diamond-shaped opening?
  • The exact cause is uncertain, but nail clubbing is primarily linked to lung and heart disease because of the chronic lack of oxygen and other factors. However, other health problems may trigger it.
  • If the underlying health condition is treated, the clubbed nails may heal.
  • Medical diagnosis is crucial to decide the proper treatment.
  • Clubbed nails may not hurt, but they might be difficult to trim without special clippers and a soak in warm water.
  • It’s often possible to disguise nail clubbing with nail enhancements.


Nail clubbing is evidence of the intricate connection between our nails and overall health. You can contribute to the early detection and management of clubbed nails by being informed and watchful. Every manicure can add a lot more value than just style and beauty. It can help someone live healthier!