Whether you are devoted cyclist, an eco-friendly commuter, or just out for weekend nature tours, riding a bike can be tough on your feet.
Numbness or pain in the feet is a problem most cyclists have had to deal with at one time or another. While you may not experience symptoms all the time, during those longer rides, you may find out that you haven’t quite solved the puzzle.
To keep cycling-related numbness or pain from becoming a major issue, use the tips guides below to recognize common culprits.
The majority of symptoms that cyclists get on the undersides of their feet – hot, burning sensations, numbness, pain – originate from the nerves to the toes.
To get there, the nerves travel through a narrow space between the metatarsal heads (the foot’s ‘knuckles’, or ball of the foot), which is where we most often position our cleats. In addition, we wear inflexible shoes in which our feet swell, complicating matters further: the longer and hotter the ride, the worse it usually is.
Redistributing the pressure over the metatarsal heads can be achieved by a number of measures, for example using cleats with a large platform and wearing shoes with a rigid sole. It’s also worth taking out the insole and checking that there are no irregularities in the shoe bed pressing into the foot (like cleat bolt holes).
1. Pay attention to shoe fit
While cycling, your feet will swell due to the increase in blood flow to the muscles. Because of this, you don’t want a shoe that fits tightly when you’re trying it on for the first time. Instead, make sure you have a little extra space in the toe box and heel cup.
Wear roomy shoes
Nearly every solution to foot pain is aimed either at giving the nerves in your feet more space, or relieving pressure over the ball of the foot. So, trying wider shoes with a roomier front end and loosening straps. Buying shoes towards the end of the day when feet are most swollen is a good idea, too.
For bike shoes, when you adjust your shoes, be sure not to tighten the ratchets, boa dials or Velcro straps too much. This could put pressure on the tendons on the top of the foot, restrict movement during the pedalling motion and promote poor blood circulation — eventually leading to numbness or a burning sensation.
Keep these additional shoe-fit tips in mind:
- Keep the thickness of your socks consistent. In the winter, some cyclists will double up on socks or wear an extra thick pair to stay warm. This, however, changes the fit of the shoe and can lead to foot numbness or pain. Instead, double up on your shoe covers or buy a pair specifically designed for warmth.
- Pay attention to the cleat plate. If you can feel the cleat plate beneath your insole, it will increase the pressure on your foot. Choosing a model with a smooth cleat interface will improve comfort during the pedalling motion and place less pressure on the ball of the foot.
- Shoe width and height matter. In general, shoes with a higher toe box height will work better for individuals with a higher arch. For anyone with a wider foot, a shoe that’s too narrow will compress the metatarsals. Wearing a shoe that fits properly will help prevent numbness caused by pinching of the nerves in the arch or near the ball of your foot.
2. Check your position
Another common cause of foot numbness, tingling or pain is a poor position on the bike. While the bent-over, more aggressive riding position of road bikes already places more stress on the lower back and hips, a poor position can increase stress on the feet as well.
If a nerve from the spinal canal becomes impinged, it could also cause numbness in the foot. The solution is to fix your position so that it is slightly less aggressive. See Dr Kevin Storozuk, your BikeFit specialist, and make sure you communicate any areas of pain or numbness you’ve experienced.
Also make sure to alternate sitting and standing frequently during long rides. This will help to ease lower back stress. It may also be a good idea to take periodic breaks and incorporate a few stretches for the hamstrings and piriformis.
3. Stay dry
Foot sores can also create an uncomfortable situation on the bike. Most of the time these are caused by riding for prolonged periods of time in wet socks or shoes.
Whether it’s using a shoe cover when it rains or bringing an extra pair of socks for those really hot days when excessive sweating is an issue, keeping your feet dry can help eliminate most sores from occurring. If you do happen to get one, treat it with an anti-fungal cream. If the problem persists, see your doctor.
4. Use orthotics
Orthotics can give you protection and comfort — particularly if you have extremely high or low arches. How your foot moves during the pedalling motion will also play a factor in which orthotic works for you, so it’s best to discuss this with Dr Kevin Storozuk (your BikeFit specialist and Certified Pedorthist) for more severe cases.
Specifically shaped shoe insoles can also afford great relief. Look for those with a ‘metatarsal pad’ – this is a small raised area just behind the ball of the foot that spreads the metatarsal heads apart to give the nerves more breathing space as they pass through the gaps. Check out our orthotics for all types of activities at the Lambton Chiropractic Centre.
Pay attention to socks, as different feet will be better off in different types. Thin, bony feet may need thicker socks for padding the ball of the foot, while bigger feet may benefit from thinner socks that leave more room inside the shoe. For better breathability, higher-end socks that use Merino wool help to reduce odour and keep feet warm in the cooler times and wick away moisture.
Check out persistent pain
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that if symptoms are confined to one foot, it’s very occasionally due to a ‘Morton’s neuroma’ – a benign swelling around one of the plantar nerves that gets painfully compressed between the metatarsal heads.