Riding a bike for hours and hours is hard enough, but if you can’t feel your feet, it can make things sort of impossible.
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 this guide to recognize common culprits and deal with the problem once and for all.
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.
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 pedaling motion and promote poor blood circulation — eventually leading to numbness or a burning sensation.
You’ll also want to make sure you choose a shoe with multiple closure options. A single closure, particularly near the top of the foot, will increase pressure on a smaller surface area instead of distributing it evenly along the entire foot. Some models will be more comfortable than others, so be sure to try on a few pairs to see which shoe fits you best.
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 pedaling 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 a bike fit 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. Inflexibility and excessive tightness in these areas can cause nerve impingement issues in the lower back.
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. While this can be hard to avoid in a race, try to keep your feet as dry as possible during training rides.
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. Try orthotics.
Cleat position is also an issue that can lead to pain or numbness in the feet. But if you’re following the advice from tip 2, a good bike fit specialist should be able to solve this issue for you during your assessment.
If changes to your cleat position don’t solve your problem, orthotics might — particularly if you have extremely high or low arches. How your foot moves during the pedaling motion will also play a factor in which orthotic works for you, so it’s best to discuss this with your bike fit specialist or with a podiatrist for more severe cases.