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Why do my feet go numb on the bike?
Several strategies for coping with or preventing numb toes and feet
When I climb and descend hills, i find my toes have the habit of going numb or tingly.
Answer from Dean Phillips
Foot numbness on the bike is unfortunately an issue many cyclists have had to deal with. The problem typically shows up in longer rides, and generally once the issue flares up it’s very difficult to calm down during the ride. There are a number of causes for foot numbness which most often shows up under the ball of the foot and/or toes. The numbness can also lead to or include a burning or bruising feeling as well. Fortunately there are a number of steps a cyclist should take to remedy these numbness issues.
A cycling shoe that is too tight increases the risk for numbness. This is particularly true of the shoe is tight around the ball of the foot. The tight shoe squeezes the ball of the foot to the point where inflammation occurs between your metatarsal heads (the joints that connect your toes to the rest of your foot, which are often referred to as the ball of your foot) and ultimately this inflammation causes poor blood circulation and eventual numbness.
Cyclists experiencing numbness in their feet are encouraged to try a cycling shoe that provides more space in this area of the foot.
Cleats that are placed too far forward on your foot will increase the risk for numbness. The forward cleat placement causes more pressure directly on or in front of the ball of your foot, and this can cause inflammation and numbness in that area.
If the fit of the shoe is not an issue, I recommend cyclists try to move the cleats rearward on their shoes. The more rearward placement distributes pressure further back on the foot and less pressure behind the toes. This can help restore circulation and feeling in the toes.
A custom footbed or even off-the-shelf arch supports can distribute more pressure underneath the arch of your foot which takes pressure off the ball of your foot and toes.
In addition to relieving ball of foot and toe numbness issues, a custom footbed also gives the best possible power transfer to the pedal and promotes best vertical alignment of the knee during the pedal stroke.
Outside of shoe fit, cleat placement, or the need for custom footbeds/orthotics, cycling technique can play a role in causing or preventing foot numbness. Lower cycling cadences and excessive riding in hills are both culprits that tend to increase the likelihood of foot numbness problem to creep up.
The prolonged pushing phase of the pedal stroke in both of these situations creates more pressure on the ball of your foot. I’ll often recommend riders suffering from foot numbness increase their cycling cadence and stay away from the hills to see of they get relief from the numbness.
Dean Phillips is a co-owner of Fit Werx²in Peabody, MA. Dean frequently writes tech articles for BeginnerTriathlete.com and is humble enough that he would likely never tell you (so we'll tell you for him) just how fast he is on a bike. Dean holds multiple TT course records in New England, having broken records previously held by some of America's best pro cyclists, and he set these while being a father of three young children and owning his own business. Dean knows speed and how to get the most out of his training time.
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