It’s common for cyclists to experience tingling or numbness in their hands, but what does it mean when it shows up in your toes and feet? Foot numbness usually occurs when the nerves between the bones under the ball of the foot become compressed. Besides numbness, symptoms can show up as cycling foot pain, tingling, bruising, or even a burning sensation. Here’s what you need to know about the common causes, and what you can do to treat it.
The Common Causes of Cycling Foot Pain
The first thing to look at is the fit of your cycling shoes. A pair of shoes that fit you correctly will feel as though they are not there, you should forget about your shoes while riding. Getting fit for the right shoes goes a long way towards comfort. Take your time when trying shoes, feeling out any potential pressure points. If you have wider than average feet, then make sure you get shoes that are wide enough.
If your shoes are too tight, it can cause inflammation between the joints as it decreases blood circulation, as well as constrict the ball of the foot. This can cause numbness, as well as a tingling sensation during and even after a ride.
Correct cleat placement, just like the correct shoe, will let you forget that they are even there. Placing the cleats poorly can lead to uncomfortable foot position and can cause pain in nerves from pressure points or strain from improper twisting of the foot. Particularly if the cleat is too far forward it can cause numbness, as it places pressure on the ball of your foot. Take the time to dial in your cleat placement whether on your own, or with a professional bike fit.
Socks may be the most overlooked element of the foot pain complex. You want a sock that does not bunch up or is too bulky so that it creates pressure points in an otherwise fine shoe. They should keep your feet at the right temperature too. If they are too hot, it could lead to more swelling, exacerbated pressure points and chafing. Feet that are too cold start to hurt from the lack of blood flow or frostbite.
Climbing without proper pedaling technique or too slow of a cadence can put too much pressure on the balls of your feet and make them go numb. Ensure you are keeping your cadence within the proper range, and as consistent as possible.
Treatment and Prevention
Exercises on the Bike
While out on a ride, pay attention to your feet before the problems show up. If you’re going for a long ride, then try unclip and lift your foot up into the air at the top of the pedal stroke a few times to get your blood flowing. When you’re sitting at red lights, or stopping for a break, then flex your toes or do some circles with your ankles. You can even get off and walk a few paces if need be (although this can be awkward with cycling shoes).
If you find your feet are painful, or going numb during rides, then try invest in some custom arch supports. These can help distribute your weight more evenly and decrease the pressure placed on the ball of your foot and on your toes.
Stretching & Rolling
There are some exercises you can do off the bike, especially before a ride, to help treat and prevent foot pain. The first is to sit with one leg up on your other knee, fingers locking into your toes. Then rotate your foot around with your hand, stretching out the ankle joint and getting the blood flowing.
Second, you can use a tennis ball or a roller to apply pressureto the bottom of your foot. This can be painful, so don’t apply too much pressure if it’s too uncomfortable. Simply place the ball or roller under your foot, then roll front to back.
If your feet are comfortable while you ride, then it’s going to be a whole lot more fun. Never look at foot pain as an inevitable side effect of cycling, and make sure you do what you can to prevent it.