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What Causes Numb Feet on the Bicycle?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the yearQ: I’m having problems with my feet falling asleep or aching during a ride, what could the cause of this?

A:  A variety of issues could cause these symptoms. As well as having different-sized and shaped feet, we also cycle at different intensities. It’s really hard to pinpoint one cause of foot problems on the bike.

Below is a list that will, hopefully, steer you in the right direction, and help you to resolve the cause of your numb and/or aching/burning feet.

1.  If you wear a cycling shoe that has a strap or ratchet mechanism, you may have it done up too tight. First loosen the straps slightly to see if the numbness and aching goes away. If it doesn’t, then check the following:

2.  You may be wearing a shoe that’s a size too small. Remember, when you ride, especially in hot and humid weather, your feet swell. Blood flow to your feet is restricted if your shoe size is too small, and that can cause numbness and some associated aching.

Even if you have the right shoe size, you may be wearing socks that are too thick. The extra bulk of the sock can compress the foot leading to numbness and an aching feeling. Take thin socks with you when trying on new cycling shoes to ensure the nerves of your feet and toes aren’t impinged.

3.  If you’re wearing a cycling shoe that has a cleat, then the cleat may not be positioned correctly. The universal cleat position has the ball of the foot lining up with the pedal spindle (pedals usually consist of a spindle that threads into the end of the crank and onto the pedal, on which the foot rests or is attached). Check to see if the cleats are directly under the ball of your foot.

Quite often when we buy new shoes, the cleats may not be put on the shoe in the exact same spot as the previous shoe. Just a small change in cleat position can cause numbness and pain because the pressure of the foot on the pedal is not on the ball of the foot—the most padded part.

4.  Training intensity can also affect the feet. When you ride hard or race, you place a lot more downward pressure on the pedal, increasing the compressive forces on the nerves of the feet and toes. If you experience numbness or pain only when riding intensely or when racing, this could be the reason for your symptoms. You may require a shoe insert that can be purchased from a bike store, or from a certified pedorthist, who will cast your foot and fit the insert into the cycling shoe. Shoe inserts take the pressure off specific areas and nerves, which will decrease the compressive forces that are applied when cycling.

5.  If you’re like most women your feet take a lot of wear and tear. That wear builds callouses on the bottom of your feet. Callouses indicate pressure points on the feet. Over time callouses can build up and become hard, then when you pedal and push down on the pedals they can cause foot pain, aching and even some numbness.

I see a proper podiatrist on a regular basis. (Many other athletes I know do this). She removes the callous build-up using a special tool. The procedure is quick and painless, and is the best way to maintain good foot surfaces. I have this done once every 4 to 6 weeks, or just when I start to feel these areas becoming rough, thick and uncomfortable. If you have this problem browse your local yellow pages for a podiatrist, or ask someone you know for a recommendation.

Have a good look at your feet and observe if you have callouses, corns or odd-shaped bones that may be contributing to numb or aching feet on the bike. That alone may help you to resolve the problem.

Happy feet means a happy ride!

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.

2 comments to What Causes Numb Feet on the Bicycle?

  • gSteinUm

    Odd that not using cycling shoes wasn’t mentioned. In earlier days, used to ride for 1.5 hours wihtout them and experienced the same problems (numbness, pain.)

  • Linda B

    Sometimes when sitting wrong on my bicycle saddle, the front edge pushes on the nerves in the crease of my buttock to leg connection. This will cause numbing in my feet. If I notice it, I adjust the way I’m seated a bit and the feeling comes back.

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