Nail Anatomy

Amanda Thomas Apr 16, 2024
Nails with polish

Nails aren’t just a cosmetic feature.

They play a crucial role in protecting and supporting the tips of our fingers and toes.

Understanding the anatomy of the nail is essential for nursing students to grasp the intricacies of this often-overlooked aspect of the human body.

Jump to Section


  1. What Are the 7 Parts of the Nail?
  2. Functions of Each Part of the Nail
  3. Clinical Significance of Nails

Nail Structure and anatomy
Nail Structure and anatomy. basic parts of a human nail: hyponychium, Lunula, Cuticle, Matrix, and Nail bed. cross section of finger.

What Are the 7 Parts of the Nail?

The nail is composed of seven parts, each with its unique role in maintaining the strength and health of our nails.

  1. Nail plate (body): The hard, keratinized structure that forms the visible part of the nail.
  1. Nail folds (groove): The skin surrounding and supporting the nail on three sides.
  1. Nail bed (sterile matrix): The pinkish tissue underneath the nail plate.
  1. Germinal matrix: The base of the nail bed.
  1. Hyponychium: The skin beneath the free edge of the nail.
  1. Cuticle (eponychium): The thin layer of tissue covering the base of the nail plate.
  1. Lunula: The half-moon-shaped area at the base of the nail, representing the visible part of the nail’s root.

Study tip: Did you know “lunula” is derived from the Latin word for “little moon”?

Functions of Each Part of the Nail

Now that we know the seven parts of the nail, let’s dive deeper into their functions.

  • The nail plate gives our nails their characteristic shape and appearance. It also helps protect the underlying tissues.
  • The nail folds provide protection and support for the sides of the nail, keeping it in place.
  • The nail bed nourishes the nail plate through a network of blood vessels and determines the shape and thickness of our nails.
  • The germinal matrix produces new cells that contribute to nail growth and development.
  • The hyponychium is a barrier protecting the sensitive nail bed from exposure to external elements.
  • The cuticle prevents bacteria and other harmful substances from entering the body through the nail plate.
  • The lunula is an important landmark for dermatologists, as changes in its appearance can indicate certain health conditions or nutritional deficiencies.

Clinical Significance of Nails

Although they may seem insignificant, changes in the nails can provide important cues about a client’s overall health.

Nail Color

Changes in nail color, such as yellowing or discoloration, can indicate a variety of health issues.

Yellow nails may be a sign of fungal infection, while blue nails could indicate poor circulation. White spots on the nails are commonly associated with deficiencies in calcium and zinc.

Nail Texture

Nail texture changes, such as ridges or bumps, can also indicate underlying health problems. Pitting or rippling of the nails may be a sign of psoriasis, while spoon-shaped nails could be a red flag for anemia.

Nail Shape

Changes in nail shape can also provide important information about a client’s health. Nails that curve

downward at the edges may be a sign of respiratory or heart disease, while clubbed nails (enlarged at the tips) could indicate lung or liver problems.

Understanding the potential significance of nail changes can help health professionals identify medical issues and begin a plan of care for the client.

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