Some new numb foot advice

Something is going on out there with all sorts of riders, and it’s not good. It has to do with foot numbness. I’ve noticed that some of my more recent posts aren’t getting as much readership as I thought they would, but some older posts I’ve done dealing with my numb toe problem continue to get readers on a daily basis.

So what’s up? Are we a community of sore-footed cyclists?

I’m at the point where I have decided to tolerate my numb toe situation. I like to stop for a break every hour or so — maybe a little longer — and when I do, my numb toe problem solves itself. Even when I was smarting the other day after my crash, and my toe was screaming at me in agony, when the group stopped for a break and I walked for a few minutes, the problem was gone (of course, I was so sore in other places that I really didn’t stop to think about my feet until later, when I realized the toe had stopped burning).

Here’s a little something that might help some folks out there. It’s an article from Road Bike Rider, a web site I visit on at least a weekly basis. They’ve got several ideas about foot pain — they call it “hot foot” — and they invite bloggers to reprint their article. So here it is:

How to Solve Painful ‘Hot Foot’

By Fred Matheny for http://www.RoadBikeRider.com

In cycling, it’s known as “hot foot” — a burning pain in the ball of the foot, perhaps radiating toward the toes. Severe cases feel like some sadistic demon is applying a blowtorch.

Hot foot occurs most often on long rides. It may develop sooner or more intensely on hilly courses because climbs cause greater pedaling pressure. The pain results when nerves are squeezed between the heads of each foot’s five long metatarsal bones. These heads are in the wide part of the foot (the “ball”) just behind the toes.

My worst case of hot foot occurred on a 3,400-mile, 24-day transcontinental ride. With an average distance of 140 miles per day, no rest days and more than 100,000 feet of vertical gain, my dogs were smoking by the third week.

My RBR partner, Ed Pavelka, remembers being in agony near the end of one 225-mile ride early in his long-distance career. It was his first experience with hot foot, and the problem plagued him that season until he changed to larger shoes. Feet always swell on long rides (more so in hot weather), causing pressure inside shoes that normally fit fine.

“Hot foot” is actually a misnomer. It’s not heat but rather pressure on nerves that causes the burning sensation. You’ll sometimes see riders squirting water on their pups in a vain attempt to put out the fire.

Besides tight shoes, another risk factor is small pedals, especially if you have large feet. Small pedal surfaces concentrate pressure on the ball of the foot instead of spreading it the way a larger pedal will. If your cycling shoes have flexible soles like most mountain bike shoes, they’ll be less able to diffuse pressure.

Before Ed figured out his shoe-size problem, he tried to solve the pain with cortisone injections. That’s an unnecessary extreme in most cases — and it’s not fun to have a doctor stick a needle between your toes. Here are several better solutions.

  • Adjust shoe straps. It’s the top strap nearest your ankle that stops your feet from slopping around in your shoes. Tighten it as much as necessary, but keep the strap nearest your toes loose for maximum room.

  • Use thinner insoles and/or socks. This will give your feet more room to swell without restriction, especially helpful if your shoes are borderline snug.

  • Re-focus the pressure. Many riders solve hot foot by moving their cleats to the rear by as much as 8 mm. Long-distance enthusiast may go back as far as the cleat slots allow. They might even drill new rearward holes. After using this remedy, lower your saddle by the same amount if you moved your cleats backward 2-4 mm. If more than 4 mm, lower the saddle about half the amount. So, if your cleats go back 1 cm, put the saddle down 5 mm.

  • Add metatarsal buttons. These foam domes are placed on insoles (or are built into them) just behind the ball of the foot. They spread the metatarsal bones so the nerves running between them aren’t pinched by pressure or swelling. You can find these products in the foot-care section of drug stores.

  • Switch to larger pedals, for the reason mentioned above.

  • Buy new shoes. Look for a model with a wider-and-higher toe box, a stiffer sole and an anatomical footbed with a metatarsal button. One model that meets these specs is the Specialized BG, with versions for road and off-road.

  • Purchase custom orthotics. These plastic footbeds are supplied by podiatrists or sports medicine clinics. Among their biomechanical benefits are built-in metatarsal buttons. Be certain the practitioner understands you’re a cyclist, because orthotics for runners are not what you need. Cycling is a forefoot activity, not a heel-strike activity.

For more information on hot foot, orthotics and other foot-related issues, see “Andy Pruitt’s Medical Guide for Cyclists,” available as an eBook in the online eBookstore at RoadBikeRider.com.

Receive a FREE copy of the eBook “29 Pro Cycling Secrets for Roadies” by subscribing to the RoadBikeRider Newsletter at http://www.RoadBikeRider.com. No cost or obligation!

I’ll be interested in hearing if these suggestions help any. I’ve been kicking around several ideas, such as wider shoes, switching to touring style pedals with a wider base and SPD-compatible mountain bike shoes. Let me know what works for you.

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8 thoughts on “Some new numb foot advice

  1. Shoes shoes shoes shoes shoes!!! Really changing out your pedals is just compensating for shoes that are too “bendy.” I don’t have any hot spots, even after a LOT of riding. However if I go to the gym and use just a normal set of tennis shoes to spin my feet hurt really bad after about 30 minutes. The soles flex way too much and I get a lot of pressure right on the ball of my foot. However my cycling shoes are extremely stiff and I have no pain even after 100 or more miles. Finding shoes that fit well takes some time. I went through about 3 different brands, 3 styles and 4 sizes before I finally found a half size that fits like a glove. My first pair of shoes didn’t fit right so after about a year riding around with a lot of pain I decided to spend 4 hours getting to know the guys at the bike shop while shoe shopping :) The set I bought was around $125 and it was money VERY well spent! Just FYI it’s not about money…it’s about fit. The $400 shoes didn’t fit me well at all…don’t leave the store until you’re 500% or more satisfied with the shoes! The shoes that worked for me are Specialized brand…

  2. I can vouch for the Specialized BG (Body Geometry) shoes. I’ve been using them for about 3 years now and no foot issues at all.

  3. I also ride with Specialized BG shoes, and like mildstallion, I have zero foot issues. I haven’t ridden long enough to try a dozen different shoes, but I LOVE THESE SHOES. The only problem I’ve had is the footbed wore out, but you can replace them for $40.

  4. Thanks for posting this. I’m at 1 week after my first 24h race and my feet and still numb and swollen. The shoes are old but roomy, and I think the nerve irritation comes from the super rough course we rode. Maybe it’s time for suspension. I’m also going to go shopping for some new shoes and I’ll resist going too snug.

  5. I rode R.A.G.B.R.A.I. last week (avg. 65-70 miles for seven days) My toes have been numb since. Will it eventually go away?

  6. I started with spd pedals and Specialized shoes that were two sizes too big for me. I had to go big to accommodate my wide feet. Being a girl with wide flat feet does not provide many options. I am a size 10 women’s. So the size 44 specialized (men’s) road shoes were way too long for me but were wide enough. When a bike store owner laughed at me and told me they were “yachts”, I felt it was time to hunt down better-fitting shoes. So I started by switching to Shimano Pedals, which have a wider platform than the SPD’s, and I tried Shimano shoes, as I had heard they make them wider. I actually bough the “E” size. Still I had numb feet. (I tried putting the $40 specialized footbed in them too, with no luck). So next I bought Women’s-specific Specialized shoes because the heel area is smaller. (My heel always came out of the men’s versions up the hills.) Unfortunately the stiffness is only a 5 so they have a lot of flex in the sole. The 42’s fit like a glove and for the first half hour of riding in them, I thought I had found my glass slippers….. until the numbness came back. The 43’s are too long, but my next move is to try them. Each time I try new shoes, I buy them and end up either paying a restocking fee to return the ones that don’t work, or have to resell them on ebay. It’s VERY frustrating!!! I have a $4,000 road bike (which I LOVE!) and have had two professional bike fittings. Why is it so difficult?????

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