Treating Runner’s Toe and Staying Alive in 90 Seconds

Throughout the great sword schools of Japan run one common theme:  in combat the first swordsman to stop moving dies. The point being that continual motion is necessary for survival, and hesitation will get you killed.

The principle applies equally to preppers. In this post we’ll be discussing the treatment of a disabling injury called runner’s toe. It’s a painful condition that can slow you to a limp and prevent you from reaching the safety of your bug-out-location.

Treating Runner's Toe


What is Runner’s Toe?

A subungual hematoma, or runner’s toe, is a painful and immobilizing condition seen in runners, hikers, and soldiers.  Frequently called black toenail, it’s caused by downward pressure on the nail from tight fitting footwear.  Preppers are likely to see this condition in traveling companions with new footwear, and in those unaccustomed to trekking long distances.

Draining Runner's Toe

The injury is also seen in skiers with thigh fitting boots.  There’s no give in those monsters, so the force of even a small bump will transmit immediately to the nail of the great toe.  Before long blood starts collecting between the nail and the nail bed, and the building pressure quickly translates to excruciating pain.  But decompressing the trapped blood is easily done on the fly, and the pain relief provided is immediate.


When Do You Suspect Someone Has This?

If someone in your group has progressively slowed to a limp, remove their boots and inspect their toenails.  If blood has collected under the nail it will loose its normal whitish-transparent hue, and appear dark-red or black. Quickly relieve the pressure by burning a hole in the nail with a heated paperclip.  The trick is to leave the hot wire on the nail only for a second or two at a time. Any longer than that and the heat will dissipate across the nail’s surface and cause sharp pain.  Repeatedly applying the paperclip in short intervals to the hole you have created will eventually cause it to penetrate completely through, and a small amount of blood will spurt out. Put their boot back on and they’ll be good to go. It’s that simple!

Treating Black Toe

If done within 36-48 hours of the injury, the pain relief will be immediate.  Any longer than that and it won’t be of any benefit.  The blood will have already clotted, and you’ll have to let the injury resolve on its own.  If you don’t have a paperclip, you can heat a wire or safety pin. (There’s a safety pin in the package of every triangular bandage.) But if you’re well outfitted, I’d recommend using a cool tool called a cautery pen.


What is a Cautery Pen and Where Can I Get One?

Battery powered devices, cautery pens are inexpensive at $10-22.  They’re handy to carry in your medical kit because they have many uses. The cheapest places to find them are fishing and sporting goods stores, where they’re sold for fly tying and other remarkably awesome hobbies.

Click the image below to purchase a cautery pen online that I recommend for preppers and survivalists.
Cautery Pen


Would You Like to Know More?

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