Indian Dermatology Online Journal

: 2015  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 288--289

Vertically growing nail - A rare entity

Prachi Barad, Joycelin Fernandes, Rakhi Ghodge, Pankaj Shukla 
 Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, Goa Medical College, Goa, India

Correspondence Address:
Joycelin Fernandes
Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, Goa Medical College, Bambolim, Goa

How to cite this article:
Barad P, Fernandes J, Ghodge R, Shukla P. Vertically growing nail - A rare entity .Indian Dermatol Online J 2015;6:288-289

How to cite this URL:
Barad P, Fernandes J, Ghodge R, Shukla P. Vertically growing nail - A rare entity . Indian Dermatol Online J [serial online] 2015 [cited 2021 Jan 20 ];6:288-289
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Full Text


The reason why nails grow flat, rather than vertical, has been a matter of debate. There have been reports of ectopic nails growing vertically. We herein report an interesting and unusual case of a normally placed nail growing vertically.

A 16-year-old female presented with a vertical growth of the nail on the left index finger since childhood. The patient underwent two surgical nail excisions in the past, in the hope of getting rid of the vertical growth; however there was no change. The last surgical excision was two years earlier. There was no history of trauma, nail infection, or any significant family history.

On examination, the left index finger nail showed a vertical growth of 2.5 cm [Figure 1] and [Figure 2]. The nail plate was thickened, brownish grey with loss of normal convexity and appeared conical in shape with a broad base and tapered rounded apex. The surface showed longitudinal ridges with pits. The pits were small, shallow, randomly placed, and numerous at the lower half of the nail. The proximal nail fold showed a brownish black discoloration with scaling, whereas the lateral nail folds appeared thickened with blackish discoloration. The hyponychium showed the presence of greyish white debris. The nail bed was not visualized. There was no visible bony deformity. Other nails were normal. Cutaneous, hair, and dental examinations were unremarkable.{Figure 1}{Figure 2}

Nail scrapings for potassium hydroxide and fungal culture were negative. A radiography of left hand revealed mild scalloping of the tip of the terminal phalanx of the index finger [Figure 3]. Because the patient had undergone two nail excisions in the past, she did not consent for nail biopsy.{Figure 3}

The reason why nails grow flat, rather than as heaped up keratinous masses or vertically is debatable. It is hypothesized that the guiding restraint of the proximal nail fold, the inducting influence of the underlying phalanx, containment by the lateral nail folds, the adherence of the nail plate to the nail bed, and the direction of cell differentiation are all contributory factors to the flat growth of the nail.

After extensive review of the literature, case reports of ectopic nails growing vertically have been described, [1],[2],[3],[4] but the vertical growth of a normally placed nail apparatus has not been described. It was hypothesized by Kligman that the proximal nail fold is responsible for the outward growth of the nail. [1] This view was questioned by Baran as he could not find any case of a normal nail growing on an abnormal or absent phalanx [5] ; therefore, concluding that an underlying normal phalanx was responsible for the outward growth. Kato, however, refuted both these hypotheses stating that the absence of a proper nail bed promoted the upward growth of a nail plate, instead of its outward growth. [4]

Our patient had normal proximal nail folds, which however did not seem to play any role in assisting the nail plate to grow outward. Besides, radiologically the underlying bone showed no bifid anomaly. Probably, the nail bed did not play its role of adhering to the nail plate and assisting it in its growth outward, thus leading to the upward growth of the nail in our case.


1Kligman AM. Why do nails grow out instead of up? Arch Dermatol 1961;84:313-5.
2Kikuchi I, Ogata K, Idemori M. Vertically growing ectopic nail. Nature's experiment on nail growth direction. J Am Acad Dermatol 1984;10:114-6.
3Aoki K, Suzuki H. 2 cases of congenital onychoheterotopia. Nihon Hifuka Gakkai Zasshi 1983;93:1167-72.
4Kato N. Vertically growing ectopic nail. J Cutan Pathol 1992;19:445-7.
5Baran R. Nail growth direction revisited. Why do nails grow out instead of up? J Am Acad Dermatol 1981;4:78-84.