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Fingernails are Windows to Health

Our fingernails are clear signs of what is happening inside your body. As massage therapists, or reflexologists know the warning signs to help your clients.

Take a good long look at your massage client's finger and toe nails. Look at each individual nail for curves, dips, ridges, and grooves. Check out how thick or thin they are and if the nails are chipped or broken. Make a note of the color of the nail itself, the skin under it, and the skin around the nail.

Changes to fingernails and disease onset are linked, so note any new developments. With this fresh view, compare what you see with this list of eight potential fingernail health warnings.

Discolored nails

A healthy fingernail should be pink with a touch of pinkish white (moons) near the base. Nails are a dull color or streaked with other colors may indicate a serious hidden health problem. Green nails are a sign of bacterial infection. Red streaks in the nail bed are a warning of a heart valve infection. Blueish nails signal low oxygen levels in the blood. Dull nails mean a vitamin deficiency. White nails may signal liver disease, such as hepatitis. Dark stripes at the top (Terry’s nails) are associated with aging and congestive heart failure. We, as massage therapists and reflexologists are not trying to diagnose our clients but it is our job to know when to refer them to a medical professional.

Thick nails

Thick nails are not natural. Nails need to be strong, but if they resemble talons or claws more than traditional nails watch out! Thickened nails that are otherwise normal can signal lung disease. Thick and rough-textured nails can signal a fungal infection. Thick and separated nails may mean thyroid disease or psoriasis. Unusual thickness may also be a symptom of a circulation problem. Thickening nails are a change that should tune you in to other health symptoms. Also watch out for allergic reactions to new medications which can show up as suddenly thick nails.

Split nails

Split nails aren’t just occasionally chipped or shut in doors. Instead, these nails seem to flake away in layers. Don’t blame frequent handwashing or nail polish for everything, especially since: Split nails result from folic acid, Vitamin C, and protein deficiencies. Split nails combined with a pitted nail bed (base) can signal psoriasis, which begins in nails 10% of the time according to WebMD. Split nails may result from chronic malnutrition. Diet is also a strong indication of nail health. We are what we eat.

Concave (Spoon) nails

Spoon fingernails signal a number of internal issues. To be considered full spoons, nails will be soft and curve up, forming a dip that is often big enough to hold water. Spoon nails signal:
Iron deficiency (usually from anemia). Hemachromatosis, a liver disorder where your body absorbs too much iron. These type of nails may be an indication of Heart disease and Hypothyroidism. Fingernail and health challenges go hand in hand – for many people, clearing up their health issue results in their spoon nails returning back to normal.

Pitted nails

Small dips or holes in the fingernails can be a result of injuring the hands – or could be a sign of more serious health issues. Nail pitting can signal: Psoriasis, Connective tissue disorder, Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. Or a Zinc deficiency (when the pit seems to form a line across the middle of  the nail). The first will clear up quickly, but pits linked to disease linger.


Nails should have smooth surfaces with almost imperceptible lines. Obvious ridge lines are a signal that something is up with the body. Some of the most common conditions associated with heavy ridge lines are: , Iron deficiency, Inflammatory arthritis, Lupus (for red lines at the base of the nails)

Dry, brittle nails

If your nails are dry and brittle, could indicate hormone changes and bacterial health.
Thyroid disease leads to brittle, dry fingernails that crack and split easily. Fungus can make nails dry or even crumbly, affecting 12% of all Americans according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Both thyroid and fungal issues take time to treat, so you won’t see a difference in the look of your fingernails for a full growth cycle.

Clubbed nails

Plump skin that seems to swell around the nail, or if your nails seem to have puffed around your fingers, they are said to be “clubbed”. Clubbed nails can mean: Lung disease, especially if there is a history of respiratory issues. Also may be a indication of Inflammatory bowel disease, Liver disease. Fingernails won’t be the only signs of these diseases, but they can provide confirmation or motivation to seek medical care. Be aware of your client's hands or the health warnings they send. Fingernails and disease are closely related. Massage therapists and reflexologists need to observe our clients for their better health.

Massage Specialties CEUS reflexology courses include information about nail health.

Article Sources
Trimarchi, M. Top 5 Things Your Nails Say About Your Health. Discovery Health.
Mayo Clinic. Slide Show: 7 Fingernail Problems Not to Ignore. 2011 Dec 8.
Rauh, S. Healthy Fingernails: Clues About Your Health. WebMD.
Danoff, R. Can Fingernails Indicate a Health Problem? MSN Health.
Wikipedia. Nail Disease.
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