fingernail ridge info: ridges, vertical and horizontal

consultationsNorman Allanalternative

     alternative medicine     herbs     science     ask the doctor     biography    blog  

Fingernails and Diagnosis


vertical ridges are no big deal, they are a usual part of aging (see below)

"D" though has some interesting things to say about vertical ridges (click here)

horizontal ridges: some follow after serious illness (left, eg.) and some are benign (eg. right). see below
Jane is wondering why, "My right thumb has been like this for a few years now and my left thumb has started presenting the same growth in the last few months." I have no intellegent ideas, but wondered if any readers out there may have some thoughts?     to email click here 
horsetail and
are reputedly
good for the health
of nails (and skin).

split nails: "JB" found his solution (below): while all I can think of is calendula or plaintain to heal, and horsetail to strengther.

fungus: there are probably all sorts of fungicides, but is the immune system (and/or circulation) compromised? (see "a treatment for most conditions")

the "moons"
are the matrix
from which the
nail grows.

discolourations: now this is interesting, but you'd have to see them to say anything about them, but if dark think blood (eg. bruising), think melanin (dark pigmented spots)... [as the doctors say, "when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras"?]

click here
"ganglion cyst"
vertical ridges

Having looked at Ridges on your fingernails, a that chronicles ridges on the site's authors nails in some detail, I finally took a look at my own nails and... they have ridges, not unlike these illustrated here, and I can say with some certainty, "Vertical ridges are normal," and "They are no big deal."

EXCEPT, some think that they are part of aging and that you can fix them!

But note horizontal ridges can be serious -

actually, I've just seen a serious vertical pigmented stripe, which the podiatrist labelled melanoma... more to follow


beyond the bottom line
is a sort of forum


Nancy writes:...going off of gluten...

Dr. Allan writes:
to understand
anomalies in nails we need to know something about their natural growth:-

nails: growth


~ Brian L. sent this
which is very interesting

~ the Mayo page is a good resource

~ as is "vertical ridges are characteristic of the natural aging process ... Toe nails are usually less affected than finger nails."

~ KS writes, "one person mentioned discolored toenails and that she uses polish a lot -- this can definitely be fungus. and the same with a nail growing off of the nailbed. if you add this, please make a note that pharmaceuticals for fungus are extremely damaging to the liver; there are topicals (drug and herbal) for this; however, generally it indicates a systemic fungal/yeast infection which they should consult with an alternative practicioner to clear."

horizontal ridge
phenomena include the following:
(and for a horizontal ridge page, click here)

the "moons"
are the matrix
from which the
nail grows.

X asks about bleeding under the nails, not caused by trauma. I'm going to put up a page on bleeding, in a minute

Leukonychia striata = white striations on the nails. (These are the sort of white marks people associate with zinc difficiency, aren't they?)

Most source concur that the white stria are caused by trauma to the nail matrix (the growth area or "moon"), for instance, wikipedia says, " The most common cause is injury to the base of the nail (the matrix) where the nail is formed."

These are benign (usually not important)

...but Muehrcke lines are associated with albumin deficiency (as is kidney disease, and liver and severe malnutrition), but also seen in chemotherapy. (source eMedicine). They seem to be a simple interruption of pigmentation.

Beau's lines are horizontal lines of darkened cells and linear depressions. They may be associated with traumas, acute severe illness, malnutrition, major metabolic condition, chemotherapy or other damaging event, and is the result of any interruption in the protein formation of the nail plate.

And these indicate problems (with metabolism)

like, the nail just stopped growing properly for a while..

horizontal ridge continues, click here

Studying for the acupucture course I am teaching, I learn that "the Liver manifests in the nails," {but note, this is the TCM concept of Liver (as, for instance, the storehouse of Blood)}; so, for instance, Deficient Liver Blood is associated with pale nails. (In English, anemia will cause pale nails: and, got pale nails, think anemia.)

A history of this page...

Many years ago someone asked me about the moons on nails - she didn't have any - and I posted a page on nails, which after many years suddenly googled, and meanwhile, I've yet to answer her question.

so here's an answer

splitting nails, ridges, and Fe deficiency, an anecdote


"Ridges can signify a possible infection" Bates

Mary's nail indentation was a mystery. We asked if anyone knew anything about this phenomenon, and L.S. answered...            
"I don't know how old your website is but you have a photo and caption asking what the indentation and lump is on 'Mary's" fingernail. It's probably a ganglion. The lump will contain a clear viscuous gel that is escaping from the first joint of her finger. The pressure of this on her nail bed causes the ridge. If she were to press very hard on the lump it would burst and the gel would pop out. However, further gel gathers in the space and the lump will reform. Occasionally the problem disappears in time, but I understand the only cure may be surgery which carries the likelihood of destroying part of the nailbed meaning a complete fingernail will fail to grow." Liz. S.

A friend, who is rather a wizard at health care, sent me pages copied from a book with the following information on fingernail ridges (now I just need to find out who is the author). He also suggested that a lack of "moons" on the nails may be associated with a tendency towards diabetes, but I do not believe that this is necessarily correct. This source says that: ...
Lengthwise grooves or ridges may indicate a kidney disorder and is associated with aging. An iron deficiency may also cause ridges.

R.J. asks: "For some time I have noticed that the thumb on my right hand seems to have a 'bumpy road' look to it.. similar to driving over a road with multiple speed bumps... now it's starting on my left thumb and some of my other fingers..."

any thoughts?

S R wrote: "I have clubbed fingers, I also have pulmonary fibrosis. I have ridged fingernails and also have arthritis. This bears out your findings in your article"

i'm not sure how close the association between arthritis and ridges is: perhaps they're both degenerative expressions, and we age.

ask the doctor

B.P asks about discoloration

If you have found any good information about ridges on fingernails, please tell me and I'll post it here. There is a niche, a need for information.
D writes: "Possible scientific explanation for ridged nails...

My dentist noticed my ridged fingernails, and asked if my toe nails were also ridged. When I told him yes- but just my big toes, he explained,"Well, your bottom front teeth also have the same vertical ridges.And he asked, "were you a convulsive baby?" And yes I was. I had unexplained attacks of high fevers until I was three years old. He said this "ridging may be caused by the high fevers, which may cut off the supply of blood to the extremities.
     I also have been anemic on and off through my life, and have had very thin hair, and very cold hands and feet. My hands go numb when I try to sew, for 10 years I gave up sewing.
     Then I found the answers at Med All my symptoms, including the anemia, could be a lack of iodine! I bought the iodine, but I believe in doing things in moderation, so I only take 1/4 of the pill, which contains 12 mg. iodine, 15 mcg. selenium, and 15 mg. of
B-12. Right away I noticed many differences. My nails became thicker and stronger, my hair thickened up, I now have warm hands and feet, and the large moons disappeared at the nail bed.
     So, although my doctor has not found a thyroid issue, she says I am testing within the normal range, I believe the tests can be should only be a informing tool for extreme cases. There is the possibility that other conditions I have, like low levels of calcium and Vitamin D, also factor in."

Yogurt and Split Nails

I noticed that one of your readers mentioned, that Yogurt had cleared up a split nail. I have had a similar experience. I was eating Yogurt on a regular basis and one of my fingers that had a split nail cleared up. I thought it was a coincidence, in the mean time I just happened to stop my regular eating of Yogurt and my nail split came back, I just tolerated it. Recently starting a diet, I again started eating Yogurt on a regular basis and the split disappeared again. It seems that that the split must be caused by a diet deficiency, what I don’t know. I just thought I should tell you of my experience it might help others, as other sites seem to think there is no real cure.

Sincerely, John Broadbent


Bate's, a medical book on diagnosis says the following:-.

Brittle nails signify possible iron deficiency and thyroid problems, impaired kidney function, and circulation problems.

Yellow nails can indicate internal disorders long before other symptoms appear. Some of these are problems with the lymphatic system, respiratory disorders, diabetes, and liver disorders.

"crippled nails"
ne might try

foot toning

Nails that chip, peel, crack, or break easily show a nutritional deficiency and insufficient hydrochloric acid and protein. Minerals are also needed.

Brittle, soft, shiny nails without a moon may indicate an overactive thyroid.

White lines across the nail may indicate a liver disease.

White lines (longitudinal?) show possible heart disease, high fever, or arsenic poisoning.

Nails separated from the nail bed may signify a thyroid disorder.

Nails raised at the base ("clubbing") with small white ends show a respiratory disorder such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis. ("Clubbing" with lung disorders is one condition of the nails that is recognized by Standard Medicine.)

Ridges can signify a possible infection such as the flu.

Downward curved nail ends may denote heart, liver, or respiratory problems.

Ridges running up and down the nails indicate a tendency to develop arthritis.

Lack of vitamin A and calcium causes dryness and brittleness.

Vitamin B deficiency causes fragility, with horizontal and vertical ridges.

Insufficient intake of vitamin B12 leads to excessive dryness, very rounded and curved nail ends, and darkened nails.

White bands can indicate protein deficiency.

I am not quite sure what to make of all this, but I will research it further and update this report.

Orthodoc's wisdom on finger nails is illustrated in Bates' Guide to Physical Examination:

Clubbing" has many causes, including hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and lung cancer. (Think, rather, "lung complaints".)
Not to be confused with "curved nails", a normal varian

Google finds this:

at the Mayo Clinic's site:

"Vertical nail ridges, which run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail, are fairly common. They don't indicate serious illness and typically increase with age...
(however)...If your fingernails change color or develop horizontal ridges, see your doctor. These changes may indicate an underlying health problem."

and: at HealthLink

Ridges in Finger Nails
Q :..
I have had ridges in my nails, and for the past 2 years they have gotten so bad that they crack and split....
A: Nail ridges are fairly common in older people, There is actually a medical term, "onychorrhexis," for this condition...

Ridges on your fingernails
chronicles ridges on the site's authors nails in some detail. There is a mention of the pharmaceutical Metronidazol (which I must look up - it's an antifungal pharmaceutical).

So finally, I take a look at my nails and... they have ridges, not unlike these illustrated here, so I'm back to "Vertical ridges are normal. They are no big deal."

Spoon nails are sometimes seen in iron deficiency anemia.

Splinter Hemorrhages may be associated with various infections.

Bottom Line

There isn't much reliable information out there on ridges (vertical) on fingernails, but on balance, I would say "It does not seem like you should worry too much about vertical ridges."

Minerva says she googled that dark nail can mean lack of oxygen (as with anemia, for instance, which can be caused by iron deficiency...) which makes sense.
click here for Doctor Allan's Home Page
in so far as nail may reflect general health, look at "a treatment for most conditions!"
the herb,
a source of silica,
is reputably useful
for finger nail problems.

fingers ridg
If you find any interesting information
please send it to

Beyond the bottom line...


L.D. asks about the horizontal ridges which appeared (while he was doing deep emotional work, could they be connected)

A vertical ridges must mean something is happening at a point in the nail bed (over an extended time). A horizontal ridge must means that something happened/changed in the whole nail bed for a short time. If their ridges repeat, some process is repeating. What events are these changes? I'm not sure. I will thinks about it and welcome your thoughts.
Bare in mind, as Dr. Duckworth used to say, "Anything can cause anything."

"A few years ago all my toenails had what looked like black and blue marks under each nail. No doctor knew what was wrong until I went to a dermotologist. As soon as she saw my feet she asked if I was taking a certain med, which I was. After I stopped taking it the nails returned to normal. I can't remember the name of the med, but I was taking it for RA."

Mary K

W.W writes, "the white flecks which can appear on finger nails are due to a lack of zinc in the diet."

(I've heard this often over the years and I'm quite prepared to believe it - and as Zinc is far from toxic (in moderation) it is worth trying - however, I don't know where this knowledge comes from.)



B.P.asks, "in the last year, I have experienced dark discoloration of my toe nails, any idea what could be causing this? I do paint them most of the summer, however, I’ve not applied any polish all winter. Thank you in advance."

I think we would need to know more about the discoloration to comment...

A trip to the university library tells me that:-

yellow nails are often associated with lung disease,
though they were also mentioned in association with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disease where 90% 0f patients have yellowed nails.

white nail are associated with cirrhosis (including alcoholic cirrhosis).



LN writes about ridges, splitting nails, and what homeopaths might call "crippled nails", as follows:

"I chewed my nails my whole life. Every time I stopped, I couldn't get my nails to last very long because of splitting. It wasn't until I had my iron tested (after having heart attack symptoms) and discovered I had a severe iron deficiency that I was able to grow nails. I was prescribed to receive 5 iron infusions over 5 weeks. I stopped chewing my nails and they have grown with success. I still have many ridges but I also have learned that it takes a long time for these signs to clear."

Someone asked about the size of "moons".

The moons are the "nail matrix", the part of the mail bed that is growing, generating the nail. In one of the picture on my "nail growth" page the moons are called "lunula".

There is a great variance in the size of the "moon" that is showing, though usually the size deminshes from thumb to pinky.

On my right thumb the moon is large (40% of the nail), on that pinky it is miniscule (1 to 1.5 mm), on the left pinky the moon is gone.

That's what I know for now.

Heck, wikipedia's answer is a good. Can I link it? "http:// Lunula_(anatomy)" No.


thick dark brown lines under the nail should be seen by a dermatologist! propably nothing to worry about, but it should be checked out!

Su wrote: hello dr Norman, how r u? i m su. i have one qustion. my husband has some black verticle lines along with ridges on his i was wondering, is that really common or not really anything serious or something?.

more to follow...

Helen's brown streak turned out to be benign, but such pigmented streaks under the nail should be checked out by a dermatolgist!


several people have recently asked about splitting of their nails. B.J. answers: "I have had, for a number of years a small split nail end on one of my fingers. I would use scissors to try and cut it away but it would come back. I took vitamins in the hope that they would help, but no. The split end has now gone and it appears the cure was Yogurt. I started eating 8oz of Yogurt every day for health reasons. It was maybe a month before I noticed the split end was gone and it has not returned. Why Yogurt would do this I have no idea. Yogurt was the only major change in my diet."Z writes: I found something useful. It is calcium based nail fortifier. I got it at a beauty supply store. The web address is
Nancy writes: ...going off of gluten is slowly removing the vertical ridges in my fingernails. My fingernails are now reflecting more light and they look much shinier. My nails are slowly getting stronger. Two of my toenails used to peel off the tops of them. This has also stopped.

I've been off of gluten for 9 months.  These are just two of the many changes I have noticed.

Perhaps Nancy (in particular) had a gluten sensitifity: which is to say, it might not work for all.

I am going to start offering online and phone consultations,

but, I am not a great expert on finger nails,
though I'm learning,

and I do know a lot about health and alternative treatments
so if you need to consult with anyone, give me a call.

Herbert Goodheart's Dermatological Rounds is a good souce of illustrated nail disorders.